My mom was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. She chose not to find out what stage her cancer was – or at least that is what she told us. I was a 20-something in a middle of a successful corporate career downtown and I had recently bought my first place on my own that my proud mama had helped me decorate. I always believed that everything would be ok and we would move on – because we always had in the past. My mom and I talked about all the things she was going to do after she got better – retiring and travelling the world like she had always planned. She dreamed of spending her summers in Italy with her family and exploring a second career in real estate.
As time went on, I spent less time at work and more time visiting with my mom. On nights I couldn’t see her I would call her. And on her “bad days” I would take care of her, making her more comfortable. I felt like this is the least I could do after all the years she took care of me.
What was, at the time, “the worst year of my life”, I reflect back and see it as a gift. If you have a friend or family member going through their cancer journey you know it can be an emotional rollercoaster: one week you see them struggle with their health and you feel helpless that you cannot do anything to help them; the next week they turned a corner for the better and you feel hopeful of the future.
My mom’s wishes were to stay at home as long as possible. We had a great team of people to care for my mom and make sure she was most comfortable. Her cancer eventually spread to her lungs and liver. I remember one night I slept over at my parents’ home. She was up all night coughing in the next room. Again, I felt helpless. As much as I was still hoping she would get better, I started to accept this might not be the outcome. As her illness progressed, my beautiful strong mother became a shell of the person I once knew. This was probably the hardest to accept.
My mom was transferred to a hospice in late November of the same year, in what ended up being the last two days of her life. I remember the night before she passed I whispered in her ear “it’s ok to leave mom”.
Early the next morning my father called us to come to the hospice one last time. My father, along with all three of their children, surrounded my mom as she took her last breath. It was incredibly hard to watch her leave but, at the same time, a beautiful, peaceful experience. I feel privileged to be by her side as she took her final breath knowing that her soul was finally at peace.
How did I see this year as a gift? I got to slow down and spend time with my mother – not everyone gets that privilege. Our experience shaped who we are as people. The passing of my mom triggered a career and lifestyle change – as I was not the same person I was the year prior. Sixteen months after my mom’s death I left my corporate career and moved to a new city in a different province with my now husband. We both got “low stress jobs” and decided to take several different vacations sightseeing Europe.
While living in a different province, I volunteered at a Cancer Wellness Centre teaching yoga (I had become a yoga teacher a year after my mom’s death) and took university course on palliative care. These experiences helped me heal. After two years of living in another province, we eventually moved back home. I decided not to return to my corporate job and start my own company that helps older adults and seniors stay active through exercise, yoga and holistic nutrition. It’s the best job ever – I’m incredibly grateful for this gift.