Thursday, March 31, 2011

#52 - Miss those Banana Splits!

My mother died on March 31st 2006 at 57 years of age from breast cancer. Her battle, from the time of diagnosis, was over two years. During her fight that involved radiation, surgery, multiple rounds of different chemotherapies...I kept hoping the cancer would at the least be slowed down. I kept telling myself she'd have at least five years with us through the battle. However, she wouldn't have but half of this time frame. I would have done just about anything humanly possible to buy more time with my mother. I was in my 30's and my mom was my best-friend. She was a fun riot with a gorgeous smile that would chase you down and pull you out of any foul mood.

My mother in the center with me and my sister. In this picture, mom
is at M.D. Anderson during radiation treatment to the brain.
So, this time of year is very difficult for me. I rejoice for my mom's beautiful life, yet I wish to God that I could pick up the phone and have another two-hour conversation with her -- which was our morning indulgence. Later in the day, most days of Spring and Summer, we'd meet up to go get our mini-banana splits from Sonic. We'd sit in her van, eat those little sinful treats and talk some more. The great thing about most moms is that they listen to your every concern, worry, moment of triumph and sadness with a finely tuned ear and your mom is right there with you through it all - she feels what you feel. My mom went beyond that capacity --- she knew how to kick into "friend" mode and how to leave the "mom" mode behind so perfectly. To this day, I've not figured this out. But, I did have a great teacher, so I know that all hope for me is not yet lost.

What I find very sad during this time is that I had been so very ill the year my mother had passed away that I feel sometimes as if our little time left together was severely interrupted by illness for both of us. Yet, I was still working full-time and raising two daughters, doing my best to hide my cardio issue. I already knew that a rarely performed decompression surgery would need to be performed. This involved cutting out a rib, several muscles in my neck and just about anything else the surgeon could cut out to give the artery more room to pump blood through. But, I put myself into auto-pilot so I could live life as "normal" as possible. Few people knew I was so ill, few people knew my mother was was ridiculous, but I had a hard time sharing things that were so personal. Life was kept at a brutally busy level, just so I would not fall into the deep recesses of my mind and think too much about my reality. On top of my own bad medical news, my mother discovered two lumps and they turned out to be breast cancer. We were overwhelmed. My mother, the tireless helper, became the one who would need a small army of help since her battle would be so fierce and quick.

The year before she died, I had no choice but to move forward with my first cardio-thoracic surgery, a dangerous arterial decompression surgery that required the removal of my left, first rib and some of the muscles in my neck. The surgery could not be delayed. On the chopping block I went and I sure did feel pulverized. They left surgical jewelry inside my chest wall, a couple of adorable artery clips in my thoracic region that will forever be a part of me. The Lana Landscape was changing on the outside and the inside.

But, the real kicker was the collapsed lung that lasted for nine months and the internal bleeding into the chest wall and the nerve damage that prevented one eye from opening fully. I was a complete mess with tubes running from inside my body to the outside world, everything was terribly abnormal and disturbing and painful. And, the worst part was that I was going to have to go back into surgery the following year to do the same thing for my right side. Little did I know, my mother would already be gone by then.

After my first cardio-thoracic surgery, I was often hanging onto life by a thread, in and out of the hospital, especially because my Addison's disease was being pushed to the limits. Through that first cardio-thoracic surgery, my mom was there to help, even as she was battling her cancer. We were quite a pair. Our joint sense of humor carried us through some very dark times. At one point, during a hospitalization, I needed my surgical stress dose for Addison's and we had been telling the staff for over one hour that it had been long overdue. I was slumped over in the hospital bed, unable to talk any more and my mother knew the situation was dire. She stepped into the hallway and began yelling, "She needs her injection now! It might be too late already - get the Endocrinologist NOW!" Guess what? A TEAM with Endocrinology came bursting into the room and the head honcho told his team, "You'll probably never see this again, so pay attention" and he pushed a huge loaded syringe of medicine into my IV. Within minutes, I was able to hold my head up, sit up and say, "Thank you," as five residents stood in awe. I hoped that they would be able to help the next person in my position so they wouldn't die either. But, my mother was the one who saved my life.

My mom in the 70's - holding my newborn sister just before
we left to live overseas in Scotland.
A few months later, as my mother lay in her room of my childhood home, dying, I would often make the difficult walk to her house, which was only six houses from my own, but I struggled to take only a few steps still. My decompression surgeries were not finished. At her house, I would try to sit and stay with her for extended visits, but my body was in such agony and so ill that I could barely sit. My voice was very weak because I didn't have the lung power to get enough air out that was needed to form sound for my words. And my mother was dying. I didn't even have the precious energy to cry like I desperately needed to. With a collapsed lung, I struggled to breathe, but I still took care of most of my mother's personal needs. She'd put her arms around me and I'd be able to lift her and move her as needed. God gave me uncanny strength in spite of my mangled body and inability to take in a deep breath of air.

One day, I was driving her to an appointment at M.D. Anderson and she told me that she was at peace about my cardio health because she'd had a dream that I would eventually be healed. At that time, with another serious cardio-thoracic surgery facing me and knowing that my body would be yet again introduced to bone saws, huge incisions, muscles extractions and scar tissue removal with more artery clips installed, I had a hard time seeing any healing in my future. But, I agreed with her because I mostly wanted her to live out her few remaining days in peace over my well-being. Today, after nearly five years, she is right. My cardio side of health has been "healed" because of the surgeries doing their job. My upper body has a strong pulse and I am no longer feeling an invisible hand around my neck strangling me. Life is better.

My mother died from home on a beautiful day that March...her body was free from pain and able to finally relax into a final release from this world. I went back to work within two days of her passing - straight back into denial because mourning was too painful. I still did not have enough lung power to cry, so I avoided it at all costs. I knew she needed to leave her body, I understood pain, so I did not feel selfish and want her stay in spite of her pain, yet I did not want my mother to go. I'd never have another mother. She was beautiful.

Within approximately three months after her death, I had my second cardio-thoracic surgery at Hermann Hospital in Houston, Texas and most of the same post-operative complications as I had the first time around. But this time as I lay with a paralyzed diaphragm - which is the muscle that controls the lung - I suffered again with a collapsed lung and terrible things too difficult to revisit and my mother was no longer present. I had no mom to worry about any more. No more cancer to fight. No more endless trips to M.D. Anderson as I watched her deteriorate. No more phone calls. No more sharing. No more mom.

Since my last cardio-thoracic surgery in 2006, I'd have to say that her dream was right. Of that condition, I feel so much better. It's taken time and one more related surgery in 2008 to take out more muscles that had been grinded up during the last surgery and I did start to feel stronger and better. Her dream circled me.

So, we're hitting the five year mark of her passing as of today and I want to tell her:
Mom, during our last couple of years together, our bodies just didn't want to give us a break. But, I am still hanging in there. We'll see each other again one day in Heaven  and we won't have anything health-related to distract us from being silly together. I love you mom, I feel your love always, but I want you to rest and not worry about us because you deserve the peace you now enjoy. One day, in Heaven, we'll climb a big banana split and slide down through the chocolate syrup and not gain one calorie! Until then, love NEVER dies.


  1. This made me cry, Lana. :) thanks for sharing! I'm very close to my mom, and 3 months after she had been my rock during diagnosis, she had a difficult surgery and needed my help. it's amazing how that bonded us together.

  2. Lana, this touches me as I lost my mother 11 yrs. ago. I was sick with Addison's but not knowing what was wringing the life out of me. I would spend as much of the day as possible with her while she was in the hospital leading up to the end. I'd then go home and rest and go back that night with my husband...I felt I didn't do enough for her when she needed me most because I was sick...but Addison's was in control.

    I then lost my dearest friend ( she was with my mom when I was born) to breast cancer about 10 weeks later. I was her primary caregiver. The year 2000 was a very difficult one.

    You will always miss your mother but hold onto to those wonderful memories.

  3. Suzanna, going thru an illness together can indeed form a bond so strong that you cannot explain. Every vulnerable part of you is exposed and you learn to lean on each other in a different way. I still need to write about the side of me that is thankful for my disease, etc. because we would never have spent THAT much time together if I had not been so ill.

    NJO - I'm sorry about the lose of your mom, it never, ever is easy to lose a mom. On a deeper level, our moms understand us children on an instinctual level and probably knew that your suffering was taking you to the limits of endurance. Having Addison's and considering the physical toll and emotional toll that losing a loved one produces, can be something not understood by others who do not comprehend adrenal insufficiency/Addison's. Losing a dear friend within that time frame gave you no time to recuperate.

    I had so many years of back to back agony in life that I wondered if things would ever turn around again, but it did. Still, through it all, I always searched diligently to find the joy in all things and --- I did. I really did. Now, that doesn't erase the pain, but it sure gives me an awesome perspective.

    Our memories are such a treasure - I hope to gain a lot more beautiful memories and live to be a very old, vibrant woman who can recycle them over and over!!

    Lana C.


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