Lessons Cancer Taught Me And A Love Story

lessons cancer taught meThere are many lessons cancer taught the writer of this essay. Plus a love story she experienced – which will be a forever story in her heart.

Note: This beautiful essay is written by Shana Lundell.

A mother’s love – unconditional love for her children, love for life, love for the simple things, and love for it all. 

This is how my mother loved.

Even through cancer.

Especially through cancer.

Mom was always doing things differently.

She did cancer differently than most people too.

Mom turned her illness into a kinder kind of cancer with crying smiles and an extra depth of love which kept thriving no matter her circumstances. 

I was in my late 20’s. It was the summer of July 2001. My husband and I had been back from our honeymoon about a week or so when we received a phone call to come visit with my mom. 

We sat on the couch in my mom’s livingroom starting the conversation with small talk. All of a sudden she explained to us how three masses had been found on her spine. One the size of a baseball. And two the size of grapes. The doctors had discovered this shortly before our wedding. They told mom she could go to my wedding, but warned her no dancing – as there would be associated risk.

A very surreal, cloudy feeling overcame me. I tried to comprehend exactly what I was hearing. 

Mom would not use the “c” word.

lessons cancer taught meShe spoke with a matter-of-fact tone. 

Still not fully getting it, I asked, “Is it cancer?”  

“Yes, it is cancer,”  she replied.

It was the only time I heard my mother mutter that word.

From that day forward – and for the next 10 months – I learned what love means, what LOVE is, and why love is so amazing. 

I still realize the beauty of love whenever I relish cherished memories of my mom that will forever fill my heart.

Mom had a terminal cancer that had spread all over her body, except to her brain, by the time they discovered it. 

Each doctor’s visit was a step backwards as we thought she was going to be the miracle that beat this illness.

With conviction, a smile, a strong spirit, and her lipstick on, mom always said she would be that miracle.

There was just no room for any doubt. 

If I started crying, mom would kick me out of her room and say “NO CRYING IN MY ROOM.”  “No doom and gloom!” “Tell me about your day!”

I was commuting to Boston to work at that time. I’d come over after work and weekends to visit. I was always sharing time with my sisters and brother, so someone was visiting with her as much as possible. 

This one particular night I was extremely exhausted, mentally and physically.

Anyone who has gone through this nightmare of cancer knows it is a roller coaster with challenges, ups, and downs and sorrows. I was there trying to do my best to be up and visit with her. She saw how tired I was and demanded I go home and get a good night’s sleep! 

cancer a love storyAnother night I was in mom’s kitchen. All of a sudden I got a really bad foot cramp. I’m talking horrendous. (Yes, I realize this sounds ridiculous given the situation!)  I was moaning and hobbling trying to get this kink out of my foot so I could walk. All of a sudden, mom comes scooting in with her oxygen tank in tow, decorative gift bag that held her catheter in hand, ready to help me. She was grabbing ice, telling me to take it easy, sit down. I still cry today thinking about the magnitude of this demonstration of her love.

Flash forward to a day when my younger sister Larah had her wisdom teeth pulled. That particular day, our father brought her and picked her up from the appointment. I don’t know if my sister came home too early, or the medication had a stronger effect on her, or what, but clearly the medication had not worn off yet. 

Larah was on her way from the driveway up the stairs and into the house. White as a ghost, barely coherent, she started to fall. Mom noticed and realized right away what was happening.

Mom scooted over as fast as can be, again with oxygen tank in tow.

She hurried through the living room that was full of medical supplies, gear, and stuff, to catch Larah and help her to sit down so she could rest and not harm  herself with a fall. Another clear example of my mother’s love for her children.

At the time, my work schedule allowed every other Friday off. That was my day to spend with mom to talk, hang out, and help in any way I could. But somehow, no matter who was visiting, or what the scenario was, it always seemed to be that mom was the one helping or making us laugh or smile. We would sit on the deck that spring, in the afternoon and enjoy the weather. 

One day, mom was reflecting on an old friend’s husband who had just discovered he had a serious heart disease. She felt so sad for him. He had finally retired after a full hard working career. He’d been looking forward to enjoying this amazing trip with his wife. Now he couldn’t make that happen. She truly was saddened for him.

I remember thinking how amazing my mom’s capacity for compassion was.

I looked at her and said, “Mom, what about you?” 

She said, “What about me?” 

Then she thought for a minute and said, “Oh, I guess I never thought about it like that”. 

And that was it. The end of the conversation. And anything with any type of talk like that. 

One day my mom got rushed to the hospital and ended up having to have blood transfusions.

lessons cancer taught meI walked into the hospital room not knowing what to expect. There she was creating sketches to design more desirable looking hospital attire than the ugly standard robes, Johnnies, and dresses provided. 

Mom said with a big smile, “Come see my Gretchen’s Gurney collection.”  

She also boasted, after a transfusion and her second order of toast, “WOW! That must have been a truck driver’s blood! I am ravenous!” 

At the next hospital visit, we got an update that we weren’t prepared for. It was time for hospice to come to the house and set up a bed in the living room. 

I was immediately overcome with sadness, fear, and nerves as I associated hospice with the end of a life. 

To me, hospice meant making your home comfortable enough for the dying person to be able to be at home versus being in the hospital. 

We were standing around her in the hospital room. She looked each of us in the eyes and said, “That is not always the case. I do not want to be in a hospital. I want to be surrounded in an environment in my home with family and friends when I am sick. When I am better we are all going on a family trip to Bermuda!”

Mom knew how to change the focus and the mood in the room.

My dad was at the hospital with us. He gave her two gifts: a beautiful crystal cross and a pocket-sized angel. 

Mom dropped the angel and couldn’t find it anywhere in the room.  She had us all laughing because she said to our dad – her former husband, “Please go get me another pocket-sized angel! I need it!” 

How can you not smile?

Her 57th birthday was April 5, 2002. She wanted a huge birthday party, a day for celebration of life day – with close family and friends. 

It was mandatory to be happy and wear a hat! 

Mom loved hats and was always sporting one. 

Over 100 people came – including a reporter from the Cape Cod Times who chronicled this great day. 

lessons cancer taught meWhen visitors asked what they could bring she said, “Magazines and night gowns.”

One night she was in her hospice bed reading a magazine. Family was visiting and  hanging out. Mom asked for some music to be put on. What came on was her wedding song, from when she married my step dad. It was an Anne Murray tune, “Could I Have This Dance for the Rest of My Life.”  Mom perked up and said, “Joey, help me up I want to dance with you!”

There she was – wearing an adorable, pale yellow night gown with floral print – a gift from a dear friend. She was dancing with the man she called her soul mate, in the middle of the living room smiling ear to ear with oxygen tank and tubes attached. 

I still tear up with smiles when I picture my mom like this.  

The last week of mom’s life was very tough. She could not speak. Her body was shutting down. The nurses urged her to take the medicine. But she refused it with grunts and hand motions. 

The night before mom died, my younger sister Larah slept on the couch in the same room with her. While Larah was half asleep, she heard a very loud and clear, “I LOVE YOU!” 

Mom passed away early that morning on May 17th 2002, loving us with her very last words.

lessons cancer taught meWritten with love by Shana Lundell.

This inspirational essay is part of a book Shana is writing, called “Fire Fly Moments.”

Follow Shana on Instagram @fireflylightmomentsfor more inspiring thoughts and beautiful quote images.

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