I want to thank the many viewers who joined the Pixie Chick audience so far and if you’re new, welcome and I hope you continue to check us out! The following post is completely honest and I think very brave! I’m exposing myself, my family, and a deeply personal matter-- but I know I can trust you, our Pixie Chick readers, to respect my family’s vulnerability.
I want to explain our brief hiatus and my absence from the posts, while again, thank my amazing contributors for the past three weeks! My family and I working under the conditions of a major medical situation. Just nearly 2 months ago my “SuperMom”* underwent brain surgery to remove a large meningioma (benign brain tumor). The doctors estimate the tumor has been slow-growing for 20-30 years, based on the size and type of tumor. It was the size of a large orange.
*Her surgeon actually called my Mom SuperMom because she was never administered pain medication since the morning after her surgery.
Over the past few years I knew something wasn’t right with my mom. I thought it was depression based on “empty-nest syndrome,” or the weight of her extremely stressful life.
She changed gradually--I mean behavior, personality, attitude, and especially her memory! Omgosh she hardly had any short-term memory. We always had a running joke in our family about Mom, “Did you do your homework?” she’d ask like 10 times on a school night...actually that could have been a red-flag and not just “Typical Mom Stress”. But over the past 2 ½ years, Mom and I were constantly butting heads--we’ve NEVER done that! Even in high school, it was always me and my mom rolling our eyes at my sister or some other school drama. Mom and I were both head-strong, vocal, and thankfully we saw eye-to-eye on most issues in my formative years.
My sister, Heidi, suspected it was just clashing personalities because I moved home after living on my own for so long. I have to credit my boyfriend to really presenting events and situations that just seemed abnormal.
Anyway, I had been suggesting to Mom to speak with a doctor for a while and I would tell my family for the better half of a year the strange things that happened at home...it pains me to admit this, (but this is a truly open and honest post), most of my family either denied any issue with my mom or suggested that I “take care of it”. (In the meantime I was struggling with my own problems any 25 year old experiences (mostly career related and discovering “who I am?”)!
Finally, at Thanksgiving, my family seemed to grasp that something was up with Mom, but it still took time for her get help. Just after New Years, Mom made the decision to see a neurologist, (she noticed psychological symptoms that she didn’t tell me about until after the diagnosis)!! I remember the following events to freakishly clearly. I took her to the local hospital and waited in what seemed to be the basement hallway, and read Amy Poheler’s “Yes, Please,” while Mom had her first (of several) MRIs. It was a Friday night and she took some anti-anxiety medication so I drove home; I remember the sky was beautiful.
Apparently my Mom received a call from a doctor over the weekend and was informed that they found a mass. She withheld that information from me for an entire day! Monday morning around ten o’clock, she called me into her bedroom; I recall I was peeved because she knocked on the adjoining wall and told me to come to her. (And prior to that, we had daily, full-on screaming matches for a few weeks). She was still in bed, in her red and white Christmas striped nightgown and I was standing up, arms crossed with my pink retainer and probably my hair all messy. She asked me if I had plans because she needed me to go to the doctor with her...then she blurted it out. “They found something, I have a tumor.”
And then I sobbed. [After that first day ( Monday) until the night before surgery (9 days later) I didn’t cry.] I jumped on her bed and held her so tightly, The Devil himself wouldn’t be strong enough to pull us apart. I just sobbed. I was stunned, I was scared, I didn’t want to let her go at all. We stayed in bed for what felt like hours, but it probably wasn’t that long. She held me, she tried to make me laugh. I repeated “I love you” more than I had for probably a year. She told me that she was going to see me get married and have kids, but I just couldn’t choke back the tears. She told me she was going to see me successful: making movies and at the Oscars, but I don’t even know if I believed her. She was so calm and said everything so happily; I still can’t absorb how cheerful she was. That day I kept crying and I returned often to our living room and sat in front of the window. I fixated on our Christmas cactus; I touched the smooth and rubbery leaves and felt centered. It’s the one thing I kept revisiting to keep me grounded; it’s the only thing I knew that for sure, was real.
The truth is I didn’t recognize my mom up until that point, who she was until that moment was an intruder or imposter--it was so disorienting. My Mom wasn’t MOM! But that day, all the negative feelings: anger, resentment, and suspicion, dissipated. She appeared to me as the woman she was.
It’s funny, for what seemed like years I wished Time would speed up, but that day and in the days (and months) following, all I wished for is for time to slow down if not to stop. I felt the most present I’ve ever recognized since I was probably a child. Nothing else mattered. All my problems and worries, hopes, needs, distractions, all the outside world just vanished for me. All my focus and energy was lasered in on my mother.
I remember seeing the MIR image and felt sick. The tumor so large that it squished onto her brain so much that it pushed the cerebral fissure (or the “middle line” dividing the two hemispheres of the brain) so that wasn’t in the center of her skull anymore.
The rest of the week I immediately took on the responsibilities of caregiver: telling the family, my nana, my dad, contacting her work, insurance company, and filed for family medical leave. Then we quickly scheduled many appointments.
My sister came home from out of state and 9 days after her diagnosis Mom had brain surgery. All day she and I waited in the family lounge surrounded by our supportive family, as well as the other families waiting anxiously for their loved ones, also under the knife.
It was a stressful day, but I did my best to keep it together. Although 15 hours at a hospital will make anyone tired and uneasy. About 3 in the afternoon I decided I needed a change of scenery. My boyfriend accompanied me on an adventure in the hospital. We checked out the gift shop and found our way to the peaceful interfaith chapel. I read all the historical notes and captioned photos of the chapel's story and those involved. It was dimly lit, the space felt cloud-like. It was chilly and I wrote a special intention prayer and pinned in on the corkboard. Then we sat and prayed. Just as I was genuinely pleading and thanking God for blessing my mom to recover, my phone rang loudly, breaking the silent tranquility of the chapel.
I fumbled a bit and made my way to the front hall, my boyfriend just steps behind me. The doctor announced himself and I could tell he was beaming! “Hi Holly, it’s Dr.Killory! We’re finished with the surgery. It went quite well. It was actually so good, it was boring!”
I laughed and felt hot, salty tears slide down my cheeks. I reached out to my boyfriend for support.
Her doctor said she was in recovery and that within an hour my sister and I could see her. Our conversation was brief but the best phone call I’ve ever received. My boyfriend and I took a moment to absorb the amazing and relieving news. We embraced and the raced up to see my family. I told the many familiar people the good news and then my sister and I waited for an hour by the elevator to meet the doctor. We flagged him down in the hallway, not wanting to share that special moment with anyone else.
He is tall, goofy, and super sweet. Just seeing his demeanor we knew everything was okay. He said again her surgery went so well it was boring and that it was pretty easy- “which is what you want to hear!” We asked him, out of curiousity what the tumor looked like. He joked and he looked like an excited child as he said, “like a white potato; I actually almost took a picture of it, but I wasn’t sure if you’d want to see it!” He reassured us that our Mom was doing well and that we’d see her shortly, and not soon enough Heidi and I had a five minute visit…
Finally Heidi and I did have a few private moments with our mom, most of which, I’m sure she doesn’t remember but something Heidi and I will never forget. I was expecting her head bandaged or a big scary mess… actually I had no idea what to expect, but the rushes of scary hypotheticals filled my anxious imagination. In fact, Mom looked amazing. It was hard to believe she just had surgery. She was alert, requested juice, and was peaceful. It was probably the high from the anesthesia. But she was Mom again. Her voice was hoarse and she was heavily drugged but I knew that soon she’d be shining, just like she used to be!
And that folks is where I’m choosing to end. I have decided that I will share more, but for now, this is all I will give. But this has been helpful for me to reveal. I wish to thank my family and friends who have showed me and my family love and support, we feel loved and strong because of people like you!