Filling my boat with family


I’m stuck at the landing, trying to figure out how to launch this post properly. There are many words I want to say. Many words I need to say.

Since I left you cliff hanging in my last post, let me reassure you that my mom’s emergency surgery was a success.

I woke early, really early on Friday and drove to the hospital in the dark – the same darkness I had left in on Thursday night. The once unfamiliar parking ramp was unfortunately already a familiar sight. Hospitals, after you’ve been in more than five, start to look the same. Since I was a wee little thing, I have found myself on the operating table many times. Thus, I have a knack for finding my way around hospitals with all their floors, wings, and waiting rooms. And Friday morning was no different.

Aside from the fact that Friday morning I was not the one waiting for surgery; something I would much rather have prefered. When it’s me in the hospital bed, meeting with the anesthesiologist and nurses, I’m fine. I’ve been known to crack a few jokes. To wow the hospital personnel with my wit. Granted, none of my surgeries have been on the same “major” level as my mom’s recent operation. But they were not all a walk in the park, either.

Still.

I didn’t like the feeling on Friday morning of watching my mom wait for the nurses to bring her to the pre-op room. I didn’t care for the feeling of watching her talk to the anesthesiologist and hear various “what if” scenarios. I most definitely didn’t appreciate the feeling that was stirred up when I hugged her before we were shuffled into the waiting room to wait.

Mentally, I’m able to prep myself for surgery. I can whip out witty remarks to the doctors and nurses without batting an eye. Because it’s me.

It’s never been my mom in the operating room. I’ve never had to sit and wait. Or call and text family and friends. I have no experience with the waiting part. Sitting in waiting rooms with other families – waiting. I didn’t know how to mentally prep for that part. Or the part where I wanted to cry when I saw my mom tear up with anxiety over the uncertainty of the operation.

I somehow waited the way I thought people are supposed to wait. I talked with my aunt and uncle. I joked with my dad. I picked up wehre I’d left off reading in Ken Dryden’s book, The Game. A book I am thoroughly enjoying, but lack the time to sit and read. I called and texted people – family and family friends, my mom’s co-workers and many of my own friends.

And then.

When I started looking at the clock, getting antsy with anxiety over the length of the surgery, my dad went over and asked on the status of the operation – the status of his wife. I kept my eyes focused on Dryden’s words, listening with my head tilted toward the desk, waiting for an answer. A sigh of relief was sighed when I heard that the operation was complete and the doctor would see us shortly.

Except, no one told me how to think or act or wait in a consult room. The room that is always so doom and gloom on television dramas and the silver screen. That was the tense time. The time of “I never want to have this conversation again” conversations.

The doctor came in and immediately assured us that all was well. That all of our waiting was going to result in a happy message of success. He used catchy catch phrases and put me at ease with his light heartedness. I had liked him the night before, the night we admitted my mom to the hospital. But I really liked him in that consulting room. It was worth the wait to hear him tell the good news.

Hugging my dad, aunt, and uncle felt like we’d just won the lottery. We shed some tears and took a deep breath of hospital air, knowing that my mom was resting and recovering beautifully.

More phone calls were called and texts were texted. Family and family friends, my mom’s co-workers and my own friends celebrated with us and continued to send their love and prayers.

Though my stomach had been hungry since the moment I woke up, I didn’t allow myself to actually think about leaving the waiting room for food until I knew my mom was safe and sound. Another fast-food meal was consumed, much to the disapproval of my stomach, shape, and scale.

When my dad and I went up to see my mom, situated back in her hospital room, we hugged her gently and told her the great news. She had been too groggy in post-op to truly remember hearing the all-clear horn, so my dad and I sounded it again with smiles and hand squeezes. She cried her relief and rested her eyes on and off throughout the day.

By mid-afternoon, pretty much everyone knew the good news. The news that the cancer had, as far as we knew at the time, not spread. That whatever the issue was – was most likely unrelated to cancer. My dad pointed out the irony of the 24 hours my mom experienced when he said “at the end of the day (she had a root canal on Thursday morning, an ECHO in the afternoon, was admitted into the hospital Thursday night, and had “open heart” surgery on Friday morning), I guess the good news is that she only has breast cancer.”

Weird words, indeed, but so true. And something to be thankful for.

Life tends to freeze when you’re waiting in a hospital waiting room. But life does not freeze outside the wings and walls. So, by mid to late afternoon, I left the hospital, in the daylight, and snaked my way back home. To run some errands for my big trip. A trip that I am moving ahead with, especially after Friday’s “good news.” I knew my mom was in good hands, that she was being cared for by a stellar team.

I debated with two sides of my mind over what to do after my errands. Should I pack? Should I go back?

Ultimately, I decided I needed something else. I showered away any trace of hospital and threw my clothes in the hamper. And I found non-hospital-waiting-room-clothes. In my car once again, I headed toward a familiar place. Not a hospital; a hockey rink. A rink I know fairly well. I told my dad I just needed some time, he understood.

I found a parking spot, arriving later than I like to arrive at rinks. As I was parking, I received texts from a cousin. I called her back, paid for my ticket, and talked as the puck dropped, trying to yell over the noise. I bumped into faces I wasn’t expecting to see, not that I have ever been surprised to see someone at a hockey game. Some over-priced food was purchased, as my fast-food had worn off (definitely hadn’t been burned off). I found a seat and watched.

I watched a familiar game play before my eyes. Players I know, skilled and smooth, fought for possession, shots on goal, and loose pucks. I am usually loud and proud, but for as much as I was there – present at the game – I was not my normal hockey-self. For obvious reasons, I was a bit pre-occupied. But I was still glad to be there. Happy I could cheer (silently, since I wasn’t my normal self) some incredible people, who happen to play hockey, on in their game.

After the game, like so many games before, I waited until the fans had cleared. I stood and watched for a familiar face. As I was waiting my dad called, filling me in on some quick news – good news. A hug found me as I was talking and I turned to see it was family. My family. I hung up the phone, relieved that the news was good, and told Cousin A that all was well. He was filled in on the latest news. We chatted about our lives – the differences and similarities. We laughed a bit. And then we hugged our goodbyes and left a familiar Minnesota rink.

Some may think it strange that I left the hospital and went to a hockey rink. But no one in my family thought that. They know me too well. After the game, I texted Cousin B’s mom – my mom’s sister. I wanted to check to see if she had talked to Cousin A’s mom – my mom’s sister-in-law. She hadn’t. I made a note to try calling Cousin A’s mom again. And then, because I knew she would understand, I told Cousin B’s mom that I had just left the hockey game. Her text response could quite easily have been a direct quote from my mom – something my mom would most definitely texted to me. And that was reassuring. That was comforting.

Because at the end of the day, at the end of all this junk called cancer – the only thing that matters is filling my boat with family. My family. The people who I want on my team, rowing with me, paddling harder, stronger. The people who will guide and steer. The ones who will test the waters and weather the storm with me.

The loved ones who will tow my boat behind their’s when I am completely exhausted.

The loved ones who will take the oars when my mom, dad, sister, and I are unsure how to even dip our paddles and stroke the water’s of this new life called breast cancer.

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