Wednesday, April 12

A mother's miracle

A mother's memory of a miracle

As I grow older and just a little wiser, I realize wallowing in a pity party over life's hardships is a waste of precious time. Dealing with divorce, financial problems and a decade of raising three children on my own, hardly prepared me for my daughter's terminal cancer diagnosis. Her challenge pulled me through a dire journey.  I am thankful to share my memory of her story.

In a zombie-like state, I remember hearing the news from the oncologist.  I felt like I was somewhere outside the room.  I could hear the doctor but it didn't seem real. "Do you have any questions before we present to the tumor board?" The doctor's words dragged me back. Millions of questions spun around in my mind but I couldn't manage to get even one out of my mouth.

A few selfish tears slid down my stone face. I just sat stiff and still long after the doctors left. Maybe I thought if I didn't move nothing else would change either. Maybe it was all a mistake. I squeezed my eyes shut. With no time left for my own tears, I drew in one last sigh and left that helpless role to become my daughter's keeper.

Amy had already faced cruel battles with physical and emotional disabilities during her 24 years. None would be as ugly as her big 'C' battle.  From a day in November when I promised her I'd be there for her, until the next summer at the end of June, she faced pain and fear only those tortured by the disease could understand.

Tucked in on the couch during a brief holiday visit, Amy snuggled with her favorite cat.  Later when I checked her temperature she asked me a question I had to answer. "Mom. Is there any place you'd want to go if you knew you were going to die?"

Trying to smile, I struggled not to cry. I said there were lots of places I wanted to go. "None of it is all that important to me." The room seemed to fill up with an eerie silence.

Then, I asked the real question, "What about you Amy? Is there any place you want to go?"
We acted like it was just any other "what if" question we talked about a thousand times. Only this time it wasn't as easy as, "What if Santa isn't real, or what if some kids tease me?"

We both knew what she meant.  She talked about dreaming of going to Las Vegas sometime before she died. "If I had one wish, that's what I want to do."

I didn't say much. It didn't seem realistic or possible to consider a trip.  A few days later, a page from the nurse's station motivated me try to figure out a plan. For Amy's trip. For Amy's life. For Amy's death.

"If anyone in your family wants to see Amy, they should come now," an oncologist advised. She went on to explain that the chemo was maxed out and they would finish the radiation treatments but, "The team agrees her prognosis is terminal." 

She sounded  like a tour guide giving out useful information.

Amy had a brief  home visit prior to radiation treatment at the University
of Iowa in Iowa City.  The red marks are measurements for radiation.

When I asked about traveling, she said Amy should decide, "It's really about the quality of her life. She’s the only one who knows how she wants to live it."

We borrowed money. Arranged schedules. And, it happened. Amy got her wish to be a Vegas tourist. She saw the sights as a fragile girl in a wheelchair, but her weak smile of satisfaction made the trip worth all the debt and worries.

Then one bleak day in February a nurse tried several times to get a blood pressure reading. She failed to find it. That night, too weak to talk out loud, Amy's tormented eyes told me she was close to giving in. Somehow she found the strength to pull the feeding tube out of her nose shaking her head slightly when I reached to call the nurse.

I remember the grey tone of her face. The clammy coldness of her skin. But, most of all I remember the blank dead look in her eyes. After a favorite lullaby from better days, I held her hand, put my head close to her pillow and found some sleep. I knew it might be my daughter’s last night.

I thought I was dreaming when Amy seemed to squeeze my hand. The bright winter sun through the open shades helped me see a tiny spark jumping from her once lifeless eyes.

The next day when she was strong enough to speak, she shared what happened. "First, I saw orangish lights that glimmered around me. It didn't seem real. It didn't burn or feel cold but the light circled all around me.  Then I heard a man's voice. I could only see a blurry face when I hear, "I am your guardian angel. The man said his name was Cossy." Her excitement wore her out enough to take a break.

She went on to describe the shimmering orange and white lights. "It looked like sparkles but it didn't sting." She said the lights made her feel safe and peaceful.

She heard Cossy's voice comforting her with, "Amy, do not worry. Don't be afraid. You will be sick for a long time, but you are not doing to die. It's not your time to die."

The University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics.
After that night Amy continued to gain strength. If I had not witnessed the event firsthand, I doubt I would believe it happened.  I still get chills thinking about that night. Cossy came to Amy's rescue a few more times until she no longer needed his help. Before he left he said they would meet again someday. That was ten years ago.

The reality of my daughter's battle with cancer made me realize several lessons about life. I am thankful that Amy defied the odds and beat Cancer. I am thankful I was given enough strength to help her through it. I am thankful for the love and support of family and for doctors and nurses.  Still, I am most thankful for the word I never really believed could happen. Miracle.  Miracles do happen. Ask Amy.

I am thankful to share Amy's story and to give the hope of a miracle to another special person waiting for her angel.

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