My mother was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer over Labor Day week-end of 2007. It was a startling diagnosis. She already had Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and frankly, I figured that would exempt her from any further serious lung disease. I was wrong.
It was a long fall, with visits in and out of the hospital. Her first stay was over six weeks. Treatment for the cancer took its toll on her liver and kidneys. We weren’t sure she was going to make it. But everyone underestimated her will to live and the fight in her; my mother rallied.
She was able to come home to my house that October. She referred to her cancer as her “secret”. I never quite understood that; she also cut herself off from her friends. Only her best friend had one last visit with her in the hospital in September of that year. The month of October was fairly uneventful. However, around Halloween, she needed to be hospitalized again. This time, she needed a blood transfusion. She also had small tumors that were cropping up on her body. She asked me if I thought her cancer had spread. I lied and said, “No”. However, in my heart, I felt certain it had. I was right. A surgeon came to see her about removing one and doing a biopsy. He said he didn’t need to; it was indeed the cancer. She thanked him and told him she appreciated his honesty.
I prayed for my mom from the day she received her diagnosis. I prayed she would not suffer. COPD was one thing, but cancer was quite another. It took no prisoners. As time wore on, walking to the bathroom became difficult for her. She became short of breath and would sweat profusely. She came to dread walking the shortest distance. I suffered with her. It was difficult to watch.
We had a wonderful Thanksgiving that year. The entire family got together. We ate and laughed and had wonderful conversation. By Sunday, all out of town visitors had left. On Monday, my mom took a turn for the worse. She could no longer dress herself or get up unassisted. As far as the progression of her disease, I really did not imagine this. She returned to the hospital.
Shortly into December, she came home one more time. This time we had a hospital bed waiting in the dining room. It was her new makeshift bedroom. I had also put a Christmas tree in there. A small fiber optic one that she could use as a night light. We already were using baby monitors as a means of communication in case she needed anything during the night. That night as I helped her to bed, I asked her if I could do anything else for her. She looked at me and said, “Pray for me. Pray that I won’t suffer.” I told her, “Mom, I’ve been praying for you all along. That has always been my prayer for you.” My heart hurt. My mother never asked for prayer. I knew she was scared; so was I. But I trusted God implicitly, and I prayed.
She entered the hospital the next day with an arrhythmia. While in the ER, she looked at me and said, “I don’t have much longer.” I looked at her and began crying. “Please don’t say that – you don’t know…” She pointed to her heart and said, “I know.” I took the tree to the hospital. As the disease quietly progressed, she continued to sleep more and more. The tree lights twinkled and sparkled at night, a quiet reminder of the holiday season that was soon to be upon us. My mother passed away December 21. She did not appear to suffer and had an incredibly peaceful transition from this life to the next. Each year, as I get out that tree, I have bittersweet memories. I will always remember that evening in my dining room. I know we both felt the presence of God that night, as the tree glowed in the darkness.