Mom grew up in a small town called Payette, on the border between Oregon and Idaho, on the Idaho side. As a child, she would frequently travel with her family to the Oregon coast, where, in good times, they would rent a house on Depoe Bay.
In the year after Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, there was so much going on that we didn’t really have time to think. She underwent aggressive chemotherapy in advance of her double mastectomy, to shrink the cancer down enough to even do the surgery, as it had invaded the skin of the breast. As a side-effect of the chemo, she was hospitalized for multiple pulmonary emboli, as well as some other fun stuff, such as pneumonia, kidney stones, and life-threatening leukopenia (very low white blood cell count). Add to that the fact that I was starting up my new practice in Colorado after our sudden move to care for her (and the accompanying lack of income), and there wasn’t much time to think about anything else.
But after that first intense year, her cancer was knocked down to almost nothing, and Mom was feeling pretty good. My practice was starting to grow, and I felt some freedom with funds, so I began to think about how we could make good use of this time with her. I had a gap in client due dates in October of 2012, and I decided to book ten days in a beach house on the Oregon coast. The trip would be a total of three weeks, including a long stay in Mom’s childhood stomping grounds in Idaho.
In the months leading up to our trip, she continued to get checkups and scans. Most of that year, things went fabulously, and we were very optimistic. Right before we left for our trip, though, a PET scan revealed that her cancer had spread again. Mom was devastated that she would have to have chemo again, and resisted her doctor’s urging to start treatments before our trip. After much family discussion, we agreed that a month’s delay in chemo was too much of a gamble with her aggressive cancer, and so she got her first dose right before we hit the road.
In these two pictures from Payette Lake, you can tell that Mom wasn’t feeling as awesome as she could have been, but she had her hair back, and we were having a great time. She loved road trips, and she was handling the long hours in the car with no problem, while we talked about anything and everything. This was about a week into our trip, and the side effects of the chemo hadn’t really started yet.
This was the view from our living room in the beach house:
Mom could not believe that this whole house was ours for ten days. Her brother and nephew, as well as one of my sisters and her family, stayed there with us. We had a glorious time, with Mom leading the way on a tour through all of the places she’d loved as a child: The Sea Lion Caves, whale watching at Depoe Bay, the Newport bay front and eating at Mo’s.
Soon, though, the chemo started to catch up with us, and Mom’s hair began to fall out again. And so, one of those precious nights in the beach house was spent in tears, as we all sat in the kitchen and I shaved Mom’s head again. She was heartbroken to lose her hair again, and we were heartbroken to face the unspoken truth that, despite the optimism we had experienced earlier in the year, the cancer was here to stay.
In this picture, Mom is holding her grandson, my Emmett, wearing the happy clothes she had purchased in Depoe Bay (she loved color). You can tell she wasn’t feeling well, and she wore the hat because her hair was gone. Much of the remaining time in Oregon was spent sitting on this couch, looking at the ocean through the picture window, enjoying the wood-burning fireplace, and practicing visualization exercises for her restored health.
Here’s where the raccoon comes in. Let me preface this by saying that Mom had a really dark sense of humor, and as horrible as what I am about to tell you is, she thought it was hilarious. There was a raccoon that lived around the beach house, and we had to lock our trash up in a special box outside so that the darn thing wouldn’t get into it. Unfortunately, on the evening we shaved Mom’s head, the children took the trash out, and while they did lock the doors on the box, they failed to put the trash bags in the bins, and instead left them on the floor of the box. When we emerged the next morning to go about our day, we found that said raccoon had stuck its evil little hand under the doors of the box and had ripped open the trash bags. Our trash was all over the quiet road in front of our house.
Including Mom’s hair.
OMG! I know, the horror. Yep, it was pretty much as bad as you think it could possibly have been, crawling around, picking up bits of my mother’s hair from wet Oregon asphalt.
Luckily, we were comforted by the sounds of Mom laughing uproariously in the background as we suffered.
She’s probably laughing right now at the memory as I write this. I hope she is.