I don’t know what it’s like to have cancer, but I do know what it’s like to watch as cancer changes a person you love slowly into a shell of the person they once were.

I have an image of my aunt , when I was little and visited with her in the hospital with no hair and a cap on her head, I can clearly to this day hear my dad telling me to be careful as he was afraid I was going to hurt her, and her saying she’s okay. I don’t know why I held on to that memory when everything else from my childhood is really in bits and pieces but it stuck, maybe because that was the moment I knew my aunt was sick. I knew cancer then was bad, but I wouldn’t find out until later how much cancer can change a person as I watched my own mother filled with dread as she found out she had cancer, see she always had a fear of dying from cancer herself.

I saw my mother’s face, I saw the fear, I saw her give in for the first time in my life, the woman who handled everything and didn’t fear much in this life, hang her head in defeat. Despite that moment she chose to fight against it. She didn’t fight for herself, for her she fought for me, my brother and her grandkids, to get just a little more time with us. I watched as she lost weight, lost her appetite, dry heaved after her chemo and radiation treatments. I watched her cry the moment she realized her hair was falling out in clumps and it was time to cut it off. I watched her in pain and not be able to get comfortable to the point that not even meds could truly help her. I watched as she became confused and forgetful, I watched as slowly she went from being a completely independent woman to relying completely on me to even do something simple as walking to the bathroom.

She was tired all the time, in the week prior to her going into hospice she said she didn’t understand why she was so tired and could barely keep her eyes open even though she really wanted to stay up. I know now she was still trying to fight what was to come, she wanted to make sure everyone would be okay when she passed and to her there were still things that needed to be done.

Life doesn’t always go the way we plan, and she was exhausted! She had been defeated… the woman who use to care so deeply about her appearance, in the end didn’t care anymore. It was hard to watch all this happen and all I could feel was helpless, for there was nothing I could do or say to make her feel better. To give her back her life before cancer came along and stole it. Even in the end my mother was beautiful, the brightest blue of eyes, the most precious smile, and the biggest and most loving heart.

I waited and watched and told her I loved her so much, I told her it was time to go be with the babies she lost, I told her we would watch out for each other in her death, and in our grief but we would be okay because we would be together. I told her I knew she would watch over us and be our guardian angel and we would meet again. And I watched as she took her last breath, even though I cried I thought how amazingly peaceful she looked, she was no longer in pain, no longer suffering. I fight with myself because in that moment I was happy she no longer suffered, she was finally home where she always wanted to be, she gets to meet God and see his face, but I was sad she had to leave us, taking our love with her to heaven as she said.

I wanted her to stay to make this world a less scary place for me to be in. With her gone who was going to protect me to the point I got frustrated? That’s on me now. How many fights and arguments did I have with her about how I’m an adult and need to make my own mistakes and she couldn’t protect me all the time… in the moment of her last breath I realized this whole time I’ve always been her child, I was her baby girl that after I was born she didn’t get to take home right away and hold or touch. All of me just wanted to hold her, if I could hold her here on this earth as long as possible, but I couldn’t, I had to watch as the soul of my mother had to leave and not take me with her.

I’m now an adult, having to face the world without her in it to run to, to fix things, to cry to when things become so overwhelming, I will no longer be able to feel the love of her arms around me holding me together as I break down, I will never again hear her voice telling me through out the day I love you just to simply say it. My “home” is now gone from this earth and in heaven. One day I will meet her again, but until then, I must finish the rest of my journey without the protection of my mother. Cancer is a hard and scary thing, I’m glad I was able to be with her in the end no matter our history. She knew she was loved in the end and she can take my love with her until we meet again.

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