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Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Chance to Celebrate Life

I am leaving for Palm Springs via Los Angeles tomorrow, Monday, 23 March. This trip is a gift and on many levels it feels very luxurious and extravagant. On other levels it just feels like it's the right thing to do. As many of you know from reading earlier posts, the past two years have not been the easiest season in my family life. March 25, 2009 will mark the two year anniversary of my only brother's death. And shortly thereafter, my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. 2007 was the hardest year of our lives as we sought to cope with deep loss on a number of levels. I made numerous trips to California under duress during that time period. Travelling after a sudden death or while worrying about a loved one dying before you get there is not an enjoyable experience. Of course, you are grateful for the chance to get to loved ones and thus are blessed by the possibility of actually being there during these hard life transitions and yet making the almost 24 hour door to door journey from Stockholm, Sweden to Palm Springs, California while filled with stress, anxiety, sadness and sorrow is not my favorite travel experience.
My mom has fought off the cancer with amazing strength. It has been debitalitating on a number of levels and has created a lifestyle of fatigue for both her and my dad. Our visits together have been rich. We treasure life and time together with a depth that perhaps we would've missed without the hardship. But even so, being together when my mom has been tired and ambivalent about life and watching my father struggle with depression and anxiety is painful. Again, I am happy to walk every step of this journey with them, but it's hard to live so far away knowing that they aren't enjoying their "golden years" with the glimmer and shine that they should be.
When Doug and I left in January after our winter visit, we knew that my mom had an important test 3 weeks from then. One of the hardest things about living so far away is that you don't just pop back and forth. I wanted to be there with them when they went to this Dr.'s appointment, but that wasn't going to happen. I had prepared myself for not such great news. Stage 3 ovarian cancer is tough. We had gotten the word the previous summer that we were at a crossroads. Curing was impossible. The best we could hope for was to create a decent quality of life that she, my dad and I could enjoy for a bit longer. The last round of chemo was wearying to the point where my mom was perhaps ready to say enough. With cancer, people often reach the point where their choices are not so great. On the one hand, you can take more chemo and feel like crap. Or, on the other hand, leave it alone and let nature take its course. I think both my mom and dad were kind of there if the disease was raging again. You figure out how to accept these things, but nothing makes it easier. So, when I got the call this time and found out that my mom had actually gone into remission, the outcome that was "medically impossible", I didn't really know how to react. I hadn't even hoped in the smallest of ways that this could be possible because the disappointment of it going the other way is too hard to handle. Remission. Lowest cancer marker yet in 2 years. Astonishing. Even the Dr. said WOW! The nurse who worked with them cried, incredulous that this impossible outcome was unfolding in my mom's life.
I had spent a lot of mental time figuring out when I could travel to California to be with them as they coped with what I was sure would be the march toward death. When the opposite news came I wanted nothing more than to buy a bottle of something really good, perhaps even with bubbles, crack it open in their kitchen and toast this news and celebrate with them. Again, hard to do from Sweden. And so I got to thinking...I've made so many trips under difficult circumstances, wouldn't it be something to make a trip under great ones? I found a ticket for a flight from Stockholm to Los Angeles International for a silly low price. I checked the dates with my husband and my parents. I got my cousin who lives in LA (about 1.5-2 hours west of Palm Springs) to agree to pick me up and drive me out to Palm Springs. (His dad is my mom's brother and he lives across the street from my parents. Cool, huh? To have your brother live across the street from you when you are 78 and your brother is 86 years old.) So, now I'm flying to Los Angeles tomorrow from Stockholm, Sweden via London Heathrow. It feels wildly extravagant to return to the US so quickly after we've been there, but it feels even more wildly wonderful to go with a song in my heart and hope on the horizon. My husband is making the supreme gesture of kindness by holding down both of the forts...work and home. My parents are chipping in for a portion of the ticket. My cousin is picking me up. It feels like a dream. But it's not. My mom and dad are happier than they have been for 2 years. We should definitely toast that...in person. Above all, I am so thankful to God who has sustained us and continues to give us hope in all things.