My mother’s wishes and comfort level for my well-being was put to the wayside very early, on purpose. There was a period of time, early on, where no one in my family, but my younger brother and his wife, knew I had cancer. It was six days before I was scheduled for a lumpectomy (which in the end, as you all know, was cancelled) when I called my mother to break the news to her. She was shocked but went into her usual “control freak” mode, by telling me I needed to move back to Montreal for treatment. Ready to be defiant, as always, I told her I would not be moving back because I was already scheduled for surgery the following Wednesday. If I moved back to Montreal I would have to navigate getting back into the system with Quebec Medicare before accessing medical professionals to re-diagnose my breast cancer to get proper treatment. I told her Cory would be driving down on Tuesday before my surgery and she could come with Cory if she really wished to.
It was such an idyllic plan on my part, I should have known it was too good to be true. My fantasy involved only five days of not answering my mother’s phone calls before seeing her for less than 24 hours and then into surgery, where I would be doped up for days afterwards not caring how she berated me for whatever reason she could find. Perfect, right?
My mother called me the morning after I announced to her my predicament. This is the loose civil translation from Chinese
Mom (pissed): “WHEN EXACTLY DID YOU FIND OUT YOU HAD BREAST CANCER?!!
Me (lying): “Yesterday!”
Mom (trying to catch me in a lie): “You’re telling me, YOU JUST FOUND OUT you had breast cancer yesterday and your doctors arranged this fast, for a surgery next week?!!”
Me (lying): “Yep! Yesterday. The doctors did some tests for a couple of weeks and the results came back YESTERDAY AS POSITIVE FOR CANCER and then we scheduled the surgery, for the following Wednesday. Then I called you.
Mom (pausing then frustrated): “Well, then you can come back to Montreal to recover after surgery.”
Me (not lying): “Nope, can’t. They want me to do chemotherapy afterwards and I would probably have to be monitored by the doctors here for another five years. Everything is already planned out.”
It was the easy part of our conversation. Telling Mom about where I decided to recover after surgery did not go over very well either. She did not understand why I needed to be taken care of at Stephanie’s parents house. Instead of seeing Shirley and Yul’s offer for a space to accommodate her and Cory to stay with me comfortably I believe she took it as a slight on her and it was harder for her to control the situation with others I had involved. Her constant disagreeing with my decisions began to wear on me during a very stressful period in my decision process of breast reconstruction after a mastectomy.
I finally had to call Vancouver to enlist my cousin Sylvia to explain, in fluent Chinese, the whole situation to Dai Yee (Eldest Second, is how I refer to my Aunt, my Mom’s oldest sister). Dai Yee was one of the first relatives to ever come to my defense, after decades of estrangement from my parents. For the past few years this was how I would communicate to my Mom, through a proxy of women on her side of the family. Family she would listen to, as I gave up talking to her at a young age when I realized my voice would never be heard without malice in my mother’s ears. In the past, Sylvia would ask me questions Dai Yee needed explained, from my perspective or another relative’s side of the story, regarding family situations which arose. I knew it was my Mom asking Dai Yee to probe me for info I would keep from her. Calling Vancouver was the first time I actually called out to Dai Yee for help to make my mother listen to what I wanted, what I needed, to get me through this crap. For the most part, I think Dai Yee succeeded.
For chemotherapy Mom wanted to care for me at my place. I was reluctant to give into her as I saw it as a form of her trying to control my treatment and my wishes as best she could. However, after discussing the side effects of chemo and complications I could have, with my health practitioners, I decided the close proximity of my apartment to the emergency room was more important than spatial comfort between Mom and I. Although, I was leery of how we would get along in my apartment, I had no choice but to suck it up and deal with the awkward silences between us.
The morning of chemo daycare I had a light breakfast across the table from my mother. I took all necessary anti-nausea pills I was prescribed to take including one pill which was literally worth $40 dollars. For that price, I thought it should be guzzled with a mimosa, at the very least. I made myself a fruit smoothie instead and ate one of the danishes I bought the night before. Mom had the other danish with her cup of hot water.
As an aside, for those who know me well I need not explain, the hot water thing is not a genetic disposition for plain boiled water (no lemon) but a cultural one. However, I usually have a hankering for this scalding concoction after a long evening chatting over a few glasses of alcoholic beverages in Beth’s backyard. We have not had beverages in months, as Beth is pregnant and I have issues with cancer and chemo these days. Being pregnant or having cancer suck for social drinkers. We have switched to gelato lately, delicious as it is, I gotta say – NOT the same.
Anyhow, my breakfast with Mom was light because we had no idea what to expect from my first chemo treatment. Mom planned to shop at T&T Supermarket in the east-end of the city, in the morning, with Soonying, my Dad’s cousin, while I went to PMH’s Chemo Daycare. I didn’t want Mom coming with me because I was warned it could take a couple of hours or it could take eight hours for the whole process. She reminded me to bring my Ontario Disability Support Program forms for Dr. A to fill out the medical portion as it was urgent to see if I could qualify.
With my new iPad packed in my bag I headed over to PMH’s fourth floor for Chemo Daycare. I registered with the reception and asked if they had information to access their wireless. They had wireless. I had an iPad. I was excited. Excited for the iPad to distract me – not for the chemo. Nurse Evelyn called my name minutes after I logged on in the waiting area. I followed her to a spacious area of recliner-like chairs and IV rolly stands (I’ll find out what they are called next time I’m there). Evelyn sat me down and started warming up my left arm. She explained my left arm will be used to inject the chemo and my right arm could be used to take blood samples, should they need it.
Throughout chemo keeping warm seemed to be key to a successful session. My left arm was wrapped in a heating pad before Evelyn asked if I needed a blanket to keep warm. As I was sitting under the air conditioning vent feeling the chilly I accepted her offer. She came back with a flannel sheet which felt like it just came out of a hot drier. I wrapped it around my crossed legs, Evelyn wondered if I need one wrapped around my neck and shoulders. The lovely warmth coming from the sheet was so comforting that I agreed I could use as a heated shawl. And before Evelyn left to get the second blanket she asked if I wanted some juice. Apple juice please! I was starting to enjoy my time at Chemo Daycare even though I knew the heat and juice were devices being used to plump up my veins.
Evelyn decided to use the vein in my wrist, which I saw coming when she commented all three veins on the spot where blood is usually taken from were too small. She brought me a DVD player and played a chemo introduction film, made by PMH, for me to watch while she inserted the IV into my wrist. We discussed what to eat and what to drink amongst other things, while on chemo. She told me it was important not to be constipated and to use natural products like prune juice before relying on prescription drugs. I told her I probably would not drink prune juice but Kale was my new weapon to to keep regular. Drinking lots of fluids would help flush most of the chemo out of my system. My pee would be red after this session, Evelyn warned, but would fade throughout the day by drinking more fluids. Brush my teeth with baking soda if I had mouth sores and check out the wig shop on the third floor because they have hats too. All great advice.
In the middle of the video, I asked if I had to keep watching the video, I told her I thought the production values looked bad and I was having trouble keeping interest. She was more fun to talk to, anyhow. Evelyn agreed I could stop and asked what kind of popsicle flavour I would like. I get a popsicle?!! Nice. It was for the last injection to prevent mouth sores from forming. I asked for orange flavour and wondered if it was possible to get a pee break in between injections. She said after injecting the “flush” (a solution to clear the way for the next set of chemo drugs) she would set me up with a rolly to take to the bathroom.I noticed my urine was somewhere between the colour of an strawberry and orange Kool-aid and told Evelyn, she wasn’t kidding about the pee colour.
She hooked me up again in the chair and gave me my orange popsicle. I was so cozily wrapped up in my blankets with popsicle in hand thinking PMH really had to re-brand by calling this Chemo Daycare to “Chemo Spa”, all they needed to do was hire a some orderly to rub my feet and it was pretty much the perfect day, as I bit into my popsicle. “Hey, wait! You’re suppose to suck on the popsicle only AFTER I start your injection in the IV!” Evelyn warned. Oops, so I waited until Evelyn said “Go!” before I started sucking. The icy popsicle stayed in my mouth the whole time until Evelyn completed the injection.
After dropping off my ODSP application to Dr. A’s office I ran downstairs to the main floor of PMH to call Sean to pick me up. Sean and I went to high school together and then we were roommates for our final year in university, along with Maggie in an apartment, on the Plateau (which was an awesome time in our lives, by the way) in Montreal. Over the years, even though he and I lived in the same city, life got in the way and we didn’t see each often as we could have. He lives in the east end with his family, I live in the west end, I don’t have to say more about the east-west divide in Toronto. We are making up for lost time now though!
Sean picked me up around noon to take me home. I had asked Dr. A if I would be physically able go home on my own after chemo. Dr. A thought I probably could but they did not advise it because everyone reacts differently to the treatments. As it was the first chemo session it was highly suggested to rely on someone else to take me home. I felt fine after chemo, I could have taken myself home but it was pouring rain outside which made the lift home from Sean more than welcomed.
Back at my apartment, Mom came back from grocery shopping only seconds after I finished writing her a note that I would be taking Sean out for lunch. Mom thanked Sean for picking me up from chemo after introductions. It was the first time she met him.
At lunch, Sean actually mentioned he had never met my Mom which did not surprise me. My mother worked long hours at the restaurant alongside my father while I was growing up. She never visited me at any of my apartments after I moved out at nineteen from my family home. Unlike, Sean’s mom who I met while still in CEGEP. Sean’s mom actually bought our apartment household groceries every couple of weeks, which always made Maggie and I very happy. Especially, since the majority of our grocery contribution was a bag of the day old muffins I brought home weekly from the cafe I worked at, and Maggie would buy red cabbage or bagels as her contribution.
It occurred to me my mother probably had no idea how Sean fit into my life. Nor did she know how many of my friends’ parents I actually know, enough to have conversations with, because I shared a past with their children. I wondered in the time she would be caring for me, during chemotherapy sessions, would she ever seek out conversations with my friends who I shared a past with? If she did she would probably know more about me than I would be comfortable with.
Time will tell, I guess.