Surprisingly, there are only a handful of emails I wrote during the initial 5 months of Elizabeth’s cancer treatment.
Even on February 4, 2012, when Elizabeth had the PET scan results that showed she was in remission after only four chemo treatments, which we were overjoyed about, I only mentioned the news in an email to one friend. I know I made phone calls to a few close friends and family, but I think I was so certain that she was going to fully recover, that there was little drama. That day of “the best possible news”, I well remember receiving her call during a Reiki class we were teaching, and how excited she, Zelie and I were, and that we took her out for a spontaneous and wonderful celebration dinner. It felt like there was a new beginning, another chance at life and for greater healing for us as a family, and we were all three part of it and so delighted!
And in early December there was a frightening and emotional episode when she developed a cold and a fever. In ordinary life this was the kind of cold she might have only mentioned in passing, but with chemo, her immune system was so compromised, her white blood cell count so low, that a fever could actually kill her.
She and I went to the ER as instructed, on a Thursday night, and were shown to an exam room immediately, as they do not want someone receiving chemo to sit in the waiting room exposed to all the sick people there! But after the initial hurry to get her in, everything moved VERY slowly. She had a fever, which meant she needed to be admitted, and needed IV antibiotics, but once they had given her her first dose, they were in no hurry to admit her. We ended up spending the entire night waiting in that ER exam room, not a great way for her to rest and recover from being sick, and for me it meant alternating sitting on a hard plastic chair and searching for someone with the authority to get her upstairs to a room.
We did have some great, intimate conversations that long night in the ER, and during the very first days she was in the hospital as well, while we waited for her to have her biopsy to diagnose the lymphoma. There’s something about the isolation, the emotional intensity of waiting, the exhaustion, the drama of being in a hospital, and the real possibility of death at the age of 21 that can bring about that openness, that intimacy, sharing of secrets never spoken of before. I learned the dramatic story of how she lost her virginity, which I was almost as upset about as the fact she was being diagnosed with cancer…In the summer, when her cancer had recurred, she amended the story and shared a slightly less dramatic version, and in this truer one, she took responsibility, rather than blaming others for the circumstances. She amazed me with her integrity, intensity, courage, her youthful foolishness and survival.
Once Elizabeth was admitted and settled in her room, I needed to go home and sleep – I do NOT do well without sleep. She did not want to be left alone at all, and finally she agreed to my getting a few hours of sleep at home and returning that afternoon. Then I had the dilemma of what to do about a class I was scheduled to teach with my partner that night and the next day. I didn’t realize at the time how frightened Elizabeth was, and I wasn’t there when one of the doctors told her she could die from this fever, which fueled her anxiety. This was one of many times when I felt pulled between my commitments, the needs of my partner and the needs of my daughter(s). In trying to please everyone, no one was happy. I didn’t follow my own instincts and spend as much time as I would have if I had simply listened to my heart. As it turned out, her ex-boyfriend was in town, and ended up spending as much time as he could with her, which seemed to be a great solution, but months later Elizabeth was still hurt and angry with me for “appearing relieved” that he would spend that second night at the hospital with her, even though I was there two nights and most of the three days she was being treated…We had the chance to talk about this later, during one of our days spent together while she was getting chemo, which involved lots of separate appointments and lots of waiting time, which gave us lovely opportunities to talk, listen, and heal old (and new) places in our relationship that were tender with woundings.
We had a complex relationship, as most, if not all, mothers and daughters do. She was my adored first-born, who never wanted to share me, not with her father, her sister and especially not with Zelie, my partner. And then she was fiercely independent and strong-willed, even calling herself “bratty”. The year of Elizabeth’s living with cancer served to bring us so much closer, giving us opportunities for healing between us and for Zelie and Elizabeth, in ways I had only hoped for.
Here are the emails to (and from) friends during these months of Elizabeth’s first round of treatment for lymphoma, which give a glimpse of what our life was like during this time:
1/5/12 from a friend, A.M. :
I love Elizabeth and what she is doing. She is so honest with her process. How tough it must be, I can only imagine. To have such an illness, with a great prognosis but still uncertain in a little way. God, I pray that it shrinks and goes away. Her wig looks good. She actually looked great the other day. She is so clear about the fever (the “neutropenic fever”, which I wrote about above), how to manage it,…. And to be the Mama in this, my heart goes out to you Lucia. How you are keeping it all together is quite amazing.
Let me know if I can be of any assistance.
1/9/12 email to Elizabeth (a friend):
Elizabeth is doing really well – she’s had 3 chemo treatments, hopefully halfway through! She’s doing amazingly well, going to school, appreciating being able to continue with her classes and spending time with friends. Her prognosis is excellent, and the tumor has already shrunk considerably. It feels like a positive experience mainly, though challenging for sure, giving us some great opportunities to heal old wounds… it’s still also hard to believe this is what it looks and feels like to have a daughter with cancer. It’s still somewhat surreal…. I so appreciate you holding her and us in your heart and your prayers!
1/1912 to Alexandra (my stepmother)
thank you so much for asking! and for your support, it makes a huge difference to me to hear…
The day went well – blood work continues to look great, the NP is very happy with the results. E will have a PET scan before her next (5th) treatment, which will determine if she needs a total of 6 or 8 chemo treatments. If 6, she could be done as soon as early March! She is looking forward to being “done” and also realizing that it will be months before she is feeling all the way herself, with hair even beginning to grow in, appetite, etc… and of course the rest of her life with this somewhere in the background.
Her attitude is really great though, very positive and quite appreciative (mostly…) of the support she’s getting. She’s having to learn how to be less perfectionist about her school work (tho she did get 3 A’s last semester!), to prioritize her health.
The treatment itself went fine, long and uneventful! And though I’d offered for E to stay here last night, she opted to sleep at home, and I imagine she’s still sleeping! I cleared my calendar for today and tomorrow to help if needed, so we’ll see.. seems when I make myself available she doesn’t need me so much, and only when something comes up where I’m not available does she feel very hurt and that she’s not my priority…but we’re working this dance out.
2/3/12 to Sally
I’m waiting now while Elizabeth has a PET scan, which will tell us if she needs 2 or 4 more treatments. A bit stressful!
She’s ok physically, but stressed, not happy right now, not getting support at all from her closest friend nor the guy she’s been dating. We are going Monday for a photoshoot with Jade Beall. I want to document and honor this time of transition, so I’m glad she said yes. (This ended up being postponed til April.)
It’s really hard today, I’m just close to tears all the time… (my partner and I were really stressed and arguing) We are bringing out so much old anger, resentment in each other… I’m so tired and needing support, feelings hormones swing like crazy, and feeling really vulnerable. I’m tired of not feeling supported for who I am, as a mother, etc..
Sorry for the download, just needed to release some. Thank you for listening.
love you too. Thanks for being.
2/4/12 to Kathy (a friend)
so nice to hear from you after a lovely day of teaching Reiki, and really good news about my daughter’s health – the cancer is totally resolved!
The tumor was right near her heart, on the right side…sure feels like we’ve been through a dark and scary time, though transformative and healing, much like a sweatlodge!!
2/11/12 to Matthew (a friend)
I can’t remember if you know even that Elizabeth was diagnosed with lymphoma in early November? It was a huge shock, AND she’s doing really well, with 4 of 6 chemo treatments done there’s no sign of active cancer on the PET scan last week! So she has 2 more treatments and though they’re intense, she’s been doing quite well overall.
She lost her hair, has a great wig! Still going to school at U of A, hanging out with friends, etc.. trying to live as normal a life as possible. It’s been quite a journey for us all, and a true opportunity for healing among her and me and Zelie. Some huge shifts have happened and I believe more are in the works!
Otherwise, things are moving along, with lots of work right now after a really slow couple of months – perfect timing really, while dealing with E’s first couple months of treatment, etc.. The universe truly takes care of us!
Elizabeth’s March trip to NY to visit her sister, Julianna, and friend, Andrew:
3/8/12 to Alexandra:
It is an exhausting journey, but hopefully will be done soon!
Elizabeth’s next (and last) treatment is set for the 21st, but could be moved to the 28th depending on her white count. (Her white count was so low that two of her treatments were delayed til they came up to a level that wasn’t so dangerous, which caused quite a bit of unhappiness and tension, as Elizabeth wanted to be done, and the not knowing was very difficult.) She is flying to NY next week to spend with Julianna (her sister), as they have the same week off – I’m really happy they’ll be together and that she’s feeling well enough to do that. E does have a small blood clot in her arm, near where they’ve been giving chemo, but they’re not worried, just recommending heat and baby aspirin… I’m a little worried, but hope it will resolve soon.