Cooking With Myra: Live in the moment
By Myra Starkey
June 19, 2012 at 1:19 a.m.
As some of you know already, my 78-year-old mom, Katy, is facing a battle with cancer. Within the last two months, she has become increasingly short of breath, so much so that she ended up in the emergency room.
The doctor diagnosed the problem as fluid filling up her right chest cavity. This is called a pleural effusion and it would not allow her right lung to expand and fill up with air. So, basically, only her left lung could function.
The machine in the lab analyzed this fluid and reported 67 percent normal cells and 33 percent other cells. The other cells would be the ones that would change my mom's life forever. The pathologist looked at these unidentified cells Monday morning and reported them as simply "malignant, likely metastatic, tumor type unknown."
She was treated for thyroid cancer about eight years ago, and so we first had her see an oncologist at M.D. Anderson who specialized in that type of tumor. Our hopes were high because the doctor told us that thyroid cancers are often controllable. I noticed he did not say "curable," but "controllable," and that would have to be good enough.
That doctor checked her out and told us it was not thyroid cancer, so sent her to a general oncologist. They were suspicious for a primary site in her abdomen or pelvis and ordered more tests.
My parents had come to town for the end of the week because we have a good friend who is a gastroenterologist, and my mom needed a colonoscopy as part of her evaluation. We were relieved that it was negative. It was time to wait for the results from Houston. The CAT Scans were pending.
Can a person find any comfort in the word "pending?" Pending? It doesn't mean negative or positive. It only means that one must wait and hope for the best. It is an unopened box. It is a long night in a strange place with unexplained noises and no sleep comes. It is as if the dawn breaks harshly when the phone rings and it is the doctor from M.D. Anderson and he says he has the results and it is a large tumor of the left ovary.
I went with my mom and dad to the next appointment, when the young female doctor outlined the plan. There would be nine rounds of chemotherapy. After three, they would check her tests to see if it was working, and after three more rounds of chemo, she might have surgery to remove some of the tumor mass.
That doctor was kind, but she did not ever say the words curable or controllable, nor did she express anything that would indicate a life sentence of "X" number of months or years, only that they would do the best they could.
My mom doesn't really know what to expect from chemotherapy. She asked her doctor if it would make her sick and the doctor assured her that it would, that she would feel ill and tired and that her hair would fall out.
I went through all that 12 years ago, when I had chemo for breast cancer. It was worth it for me. I will take my mom to the same wig shop I went to. Even if she looks bad and feels bad, she will at least have nice hair.
I was in a swimming pool this afternoon, and I took a deep breath and tilted backward and just floated and looked at the blue sky above me and the birds flying past. I felt weightless. Only my face was above the water, so I could hear no noise and that increased my sense of isolation. A cloudless sky seems to have no ceiling and no end.
Unless we totally isolate ourselves, life weighs us down. It tugs at us in a way that is as real and constant as gravity, only that gravity always seems just right and just enough so that we never notice it. Stress is heavy and I sometimes wonder if my legs or soul can bear its weight.
During our last visit to the very huge and world-famous M.D. Anderson, I was sitting with my parents at noon in the central cafeteria. There were families all around us visiting and eating and laughing and simply enjoying the moment. One important thing to learn when facing cancer is to enjoy the present and not to dwell on the possibly uncomfortable and uncertain reality of the future.
Life is about living and enjoying this very moment. Our conversation had turned to how large this place was and how alone it felt there since we did not know anyone. About that time, one of her previous doctors walked in front of our table and I caught his eye.
He looked down at my mom (having only seen her one time) and asked how she felt and inquired whether she had seen her new oncologist yet. I silently thanked God for allowing Dr. W. to see my mom just at that time.
I know the time ahead will be difficult for all of us, especially for Mom, but I also look forward to seeing God's provision in our lives. The remainder of this story will unfold in coming months, but I covet your prayers for my mom, Katy.
Last week, I made her date nut bread. I asked what some of her favorites were and she gave me a list. I am perfecting the recipes for banana walnut and cranberry, but think I have finally found a really delicious lemon bread with icing. I intend to see her this week, so I am taking a loaf. The bread is delicate, especially if you have a light hand while mixing. The lemon glaze coats the loaf while warm, giving it a shiny coating and sealing in the moisture.
Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.