Dear Readers: This week we pick up with my medical history from 2013. You may remember that two weeks ago, when we left off, I had just had biopsies and MRIs to confirm that I had cancer—as it turned out, a different cancer in each breast. Read on. And, there’s a medical update at the end.
There’s never been an easy time telling my daughter I have cancer, but the first time was the hardest. I didn’t know what to expect from Progeny, and Progeny didn’t know to expect anything at all.
So, how did I do it? Out of respect for Progeny’s privacy, I’ll keep this brief. And that’ll be convenient for me because it’s some of the most painful stuff to talk about.
1. Dreamboat and I parked outside Progeny’s apartment. It was 6pm. Earlier that day, Dreamboat had dropped by the restaurant where Progeny’s roommate worked and ascertained the roommate was on “early dinner” shift that night—she wouldn’t arrive at the apartment until around 8:00. We knew Progeny was alone.
2. I called Progeny from Dreamboat’s car and said I was in the neighborhood, asked if I could stop by for a visit. Her eagerness to welcome me broke my heart. Why didn’t I do this more often: just stop by? With good news, when I had it? With no news?
3. It was a matter of moments between that phone conversation and THE conversation, which we had on Progeny’s blah-beige couch—the one I bought for her. Dreamboat had stayed in the car. Progeny’s massive poodle took turns resting his head in Progeny’s lap, then mine, then hers again. Those deep, soulful dog eyes told the story better than I ever could. Let’s call the dog Rumi.
4. What I told Progeny was that I had The Big C and—and I told her what you would tell your kid in the same situation, facing the same first diagnosis: that everything was going to be all right.
5. Rumi-the-dog and I agreed that everything might not be all right. Concern was plastered all over Rumi’s long poodle-face. Progeny had just received her BA and was about to start law school. She had just quit her waitressing job and hadn’t found a law-clerking job yet. She had a boyfriend—he who was not right for my daughter. She would quit him too and soon, but she wasn’t ready yet. Now her mother had cancer. Who’s all right at that stage of life?
6. You know we cried. What else were we gonna do?
From my seat on the couch, I faced the kitchen. There were grocery bags on the counter. I told Progeny I had an important question for her: what was she cooking tonight?
Progeny laughed. “Pasta with zucchini and a mango cheesecake.” She told me she had planned a “girls’ night in” for when her roommate got back.
“Can I hang out and watch you cook until ‘girls’ night’?”
“Of course,” Progeny said. She got up from the couch, shoved Rumi (gently) out of my way, then gave me a hand up. The hand up off the couch was new and I decided not to think about it.
What was old—what felt traditional—was what we do, Progeny and I, whenever we need to let bad news settle in: we cook. I slid onto a barstool at the kitchen counter and Progeny unpacked the groceries. Rumi nudged my elbow until I let him slip his nose under my arm, onto my thigh, where, I assume he thought, it would be easiest for me to pet him. And pet him.
“Can Dreamboat come in too?” I asked.
Progeny set down a box of fusilli and looked up at me. (God, those big brown eyes.) “Dreamboat?” she asked. “Where’s Dreamboat?”
“Out in the car.”
“Wow, you brought some backup for our little talk.”
“Yeah,” I said.
Progeny came around to my side of the counter, nudged Rumi (gently) away again, and gave me a good long hug. She pressed her face into the crook of my neck, like she always did, and it took my breath away to love her so much, like it always did. “Thanks, Mommy,” she said.
Dreamboat came in and we watched Progeny cook.
Under the counter, Dreamboat clasped one of my hands. Rumi was back in position—his head in my lap—and, with my other hand, I scratched behind his ears. We remained like that, making small talk while Progeny sliced zucchini into perfect, quarter-inch half-moons.
A phrase kept going through my mind: “What if I die under the knife?”
That was the first time I told Progeny I had cancer. I had made a kind of pact with my Progeny, years and years before—the unspoken promise of motherhood: to be here until she was truly on her own two feet, done with law school, making better choices in men, able to buy her own, nicer couch. Progeny upheld every inch of her side of our pact: got a good clerking job, finished law school, got a great attorney job; met and married—loves—the man I call Adorável (enough said, right?), and, needless to say, they bought themselves some real nice furniture.
I guess I’ve upheld my side of the pact too: paid for things, loved, listened, stayed alive.
Health update: This week, I began to feel some effects of the new chemo treatment, in the form of hard-to-get-out-of-bed-in-the-morning fatigue. And when I say it’s been hard to get out of bed in the morning I mean just that. Around 1pm, I might start to feel better. One day, I dozed until 3pm. Once I’m up, I’m mostly okay, little energy but no need to go back to bed for a while. I had a little scare when I woke up Tuesday morning with pain in my hip and I’m still having that evaluated, though by Thursday, it had mostly faded away—as inexplicably as it arrived. Thank goodness.
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