With my mother’s permission, I want to share with you all the curveball life just threw my family. A few weeks ago, my healthy 71-going-on-55 year old mother started feeling palpitations in her chest, a fast heart rate, and some shortness of breath. She thought something might be wrong with her so far always healthy heart, so she went to Urgent Care, where they found a healthy heart but severe anemia of the macrocytic (big blood cells) variety. We thought she might have a B12 or folate deficiency and hoped the treatment would be as simple as a vitamin supplement. But the next day, the doctor called me. Her blood smear was just reviewed by the pathologist, and it didn’t look good. It looked like leukemia, but the only way to know for sure would be to endure the painful gold standard test—a bone marrow biopsy.
Two weeks ago, I held my mother in my arms while she listened to a guided meditation I had recorded and cried and trembled through the brutal procedure. It’s hard to watch someone you love suffer. I know that I can’t take away the pain of it, but by being there, I can take away the loneliness.
The next day, Mom was transfused and felt much better with a full tank of blood. We had to wait two long weeks to find out the official diagnosis. We just got the news. Mom has CMML (Chronic Myelomonocytic Leukemia), a rare and difficult to treat blood cancer. They have given her three options.
- Go to UCSF or Cleveland Clinic and endure a risky, lengthy, in patient hospitalization for aggressive ablative chemotherapy followed by stem call transplant. This is the only known conventional Western medical option with the possibility of cure (though of course, we know from the medical literature that some people are cured of “incurable” conditions, so we take this data both seriously and lightly).
- Get chemotherapy injections daily for seven days out of every month for the rest of her life. This is not a curative option, but a palliative treatment that may diminish her need for blood transfusions but will have the side effects that ride shotgun with poisoning the body with chemotherapy.
- Decline Western medical treatment and apply supportive, palliative measures to keep Mom comfortable.
Of course, Mom is my mother and knows that there is a fourth option, which is applying the 6 Steps to Healing Yourself from Mind Over Medicine, writing her own whole health prescription that may include Western medical options, energy healing, a raw vegan diet, going deeper into her spirituality, visiting John of God, surrounding herself with a loving tribe, engaging in creative projects like the healing blanket we’re now making as an art project, and checking off things on her bucket list, like going on a hot air balloon ride and going on safari in Africa and calling in the cheetahs. We know that just because someone might opt out of aggressive Western medical options doesn’t mean that you have to roll over and give up. Even when Western medicine is out of options, spontaneous remission or an extended high quality of life are always possible. We believe in miracles, but we’re not attached to them. Mom isn’t afraid to die, but we’d love to keep her around for many more years . . .
Magic Stories Amidst Chaos
I am already seeing the blessings in this unexpected journey. Mom and I have been experiencing countless magic stories every day during this journey. It’s not that we’re not scared, grieving, angry, disappointed, and overwhelmed. It’s that magic and Divine love are riding shotgun with all those turbulent emotions. I’ll give you one example.
The morning Mom was supposed to get her bone marrow biopsy results, we arrived right on time. At 8:30 a.m., we were all prepared to receive the news. We enter the cancer center, and they told us Mom made a mistake. Her appointment wasn’t actually until 11:30 a.m. She had somehow gotten the time zone wrong in her calendar. How would we wait three hours, when we were already breathless with anticipation? I had an idea. It was a sunny, beautiful day after a month of torrential rain, so I suggested we take the ferry across the Bay, past Angel Island and Alcatraz, and in front of the Golden Gate Bridge to San Francisco to kill time and stay distracted.
We ate at Cowgirl Creamery and laughed and took photos of the rainbow in the mist coming off the back of the ferry. On the way back, someone yells, “Man overboard!” and someone throws a life preserver into the water. The ferry spins around, circling back to the life preserver, but there’s nobody inside of it. Everyone fills the deck, looking out over the water for signs of someone who needs help. But the water is still. The deckhand fishes the empty life preserver out of the bay and we wait. I feel sad. Someone might have just died. I pray for their soul’s journey and offer comforting thoughts to the family.
Then the ferry turns around and keeps going. I think, “That’s it? We just give up, just like that?” But I am relieved too. I didn’t want to miss our appointment.
Then someone calls out overhead, “This was only a drill.”
A drill? They put us through all that for a “Man Overboard” drill? What?
I notice that this is something unusual, especially given the nature of what is happening in our lives. I’ve learned to get curious about unusual things. Often there are messages buried inside something that might seem like a coincidence.
I turn to Mom. “Why this? Why now? I’ve been on this ferry 100 times and this has never happened. If God is speaking to you through this, what is the message for you?”
Mom says, “God is throwing me a life preserver. Maybe this whole thing is only a drill. . . Either way, I am loved and supported. There is a life preserver for me.”
Maybe life is just a drill. Maybe some invisible force of love just wants us to know that everything is going to be okay—no matter what the results are.
When we arrived back at the doctor’s office, the whole thing felt like a dream as we retraced the steps we had taken just three hours earlier. I could just hear
the movie producers of our lives yelling, “Take two on the scene of ‘Trish and Lissa go to the doctor’s office to get the news.” Only the first time, before hours of wind-blown ferry time, we had better hair. . .
Everything’ll Be Alright
As we waited in the exam room for the doctor, I pulled out my phone and asked Pandora to pick us a song. I call it Pandora roulette, and it’s sort of like picking an oracle card. Pandora chose Joshua Radin’s “Everything’ll Be Alright.” We felt comforted.
We were really hoping that, like the Man Overboard thing, this was all a false alarm. But that isn’t the case. This shizz is real, and we are now in the midst of this unexpected curveball. Yet, what if everything’ll be alright, even if I lose my mother? What if there is no way everything isn’t going to somehow be alright? That doesn’t mean we’re not crying or resisting the news. It’s a paradox. Cancer fucking sucks, especially when there are no good treatment options. But somehow, even so, everything’ll be alright. Somehow both feel true at the same time.
We are getting so much reassurance since this news arrived just a few days ago. Magic is all around us. Mom is starting a Magic Journal Scrapbook to document all of the magic we’re both experiencing every day. It’s almost as if it God is saying, “I know this is scary and hard, and I know facing this kind of uncertainty can feel brutal. But you are not in this alone.” We can do hard things with great love.
Right after we got the diagnosis, Mom and I went to Haight Street to shop at vintage stores for outfits for the 80s themed prom we were attending together with my new boyfriend Richard. (After years of being single and mostly celibate, I have a new boyfriend! Richard=Awesome. It’s amazing how grief and joy can sit side by side in the journey of life.) Richard said he was happy to take out two beautiful Rankin women who were decked in dresses we bought at vintage stores. (Think taffeta, shoulder pads, big hair, Depeche Mode, corsages, and polka dot stockings.) Mom and I had a blast trying on crazy outfits and photographing each other in fitting rooms. We found perfectly awful dresses and laughed our butts off painting each other’s nails and getting ready for prom the next night.
So . . . we are on this journey now. The future is uncertain, but everything is going to be okay. I know you all support me and my family when we are going through unexpected life challenges, and I am so very very grateful for your love and care and tenderness. Thank you for being my tribe, and thank you for all the love I can feel from you already.
Blessings as we all navigate the curveballs of life,
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