TL;DR: Fuck cancer, fuck depression, fuck poverty, fuck smoking, fuck Vienna Sausages - this weird patch is a symbol of hope.
8 years ago today I received a frantic phone call from my brother that mom was in the hospital, and Kieran said it was bad. My sister came home to find Mom unconscious, but thanks to Meghan's quick thinking and amazing response there was a dimmest glimmer of hope. But that's all hope needs.
She could have easily died then, and in some ways the months that followed would have been easier, but we never would've known the closure that was yet to come. Meghan saved Mom's life, but by the time the ambulance arrived she had been unconscious and not breathing for a few minutes.
By 2009, Mom had lived with vicious depression for about a decade, and had been on medication for about 7 years. She had smoked for well over 30 years and following her diagnosis with depression she smoked very heavily as a means to deal with her depression, like 2-3 packs a day heavy.
Both her lungs collapsed that day. I was home within a couple of hours of getting that phone call thanks to a friend at Provincial Airlines and I saw Mom for the first time in a few months. She had withered away from last I saw her. Poverty and depression had her living on Vienna sausages, almost exclusively, everyday. This was something she kept from us. She had lost about 50lbs on her Vienna sausage diet.
The doctors gave no false hope that she would make a full recovery due to the length of time without oxygen. My siblings and I stayed in the family room at the hospital that night and most of the next day. Awaiting updates, and keeping our minds occupied, we played Settlers of Catan while our mother struggled to make a recovery. Many games of Catan were played and every time I play it now I think of how strange it must have seemed that four adults were playing this game as their mother lay on death's door in a separate room a few feet away. But it helped get us through.
After a few days she regained consciousness. Her speech was slurred, fractured, and a much higher pitch than normal. Mom was a brilliant woman and hearing her barely string words together was among the hardest things I've endured.
"Big a tips?" she said one day, asking us if we wanted a bag of potato chips. However there were no chips in her hospital room.
The next day she said, after getting a vaccine, "H1N1 shot," in a voice that was hardly hers. Her oxygen levels were still around 30.
Slowly, Mom started to make a recovery. She began walking around the hospital. Her speech, after a week or so, started to come back to normal. However, she was still unable to retain blood-oxygen levels suitable to be sent home so she remained in the hospital. Friends who can never be repaid brought us back and forth between home in Pasadena and the hospital in Corner Brook everyday as we did not have a family vehicle at that time.
While she was recovering in hospital, but before she was in the clear with respect to brain damage, a man came to our home in Pasadena. It's a small town so we recognized him, his daughter was in my brothers' class in high school. He delivered foreclosure papers. Not only was Mom's life still in the balance, but she was losing her home.
We explained that she was in the hospital recovering from nearly dying, but that didn't matter. Dude was cold, didn't care, he had a job to do, and that was to take a house from another victim of the sub-prime mortgage scam banks ran that crashed the global economy.
The following days blurred together as we discussed informing Mom about the foreclosure and I can't remember the conversation where she found out she was losing her home.
She went through the process of declaring bankruptcy from her hospital bed, and shortly after her release the bank took her home. But at least she wasn't smoking anymore, she had given that up after the collapsed lungs. She made a plan to move to St. John's and rent an apartment near her mother, brother, and sister, and for the first time in a long time she had hope.
We threw out a lifetime's worth of junk, packed up the remaining things of value, heavy furniture mostly, and moved her to town. Later that year she would be diagnosed with lung cancer and 13 months after the diagnosis she was dead. Initially upon receiving her diagnosis, at least for the rest of us, it seemed as though the tribulations of surviving the collapsed lungs and of losing her home were for naught as death was again close, and this time it was certain. But that wasn't the case.
Cancer brought her death, but depression took her life. She responded well, mostly, to the chemo and she never really suffered much for those 13 months as the cancer spread to her liver, and eventually her brain. She accepted her death immediately upon being diagnosed, however we all expected the depression to overpower her as it always did and the hopelessness it entombs people with would cause her to give up all hope.
But it never. She lived her life for those 13 months and in a weird way she regained her life after the cancer diagnosis. She was still living with depression, but it was clear to her that she was living with purpose; to help her children and family accept her death as she did, to give us hope. Not hope in her beating the cancer, but hope in moving forward.
8 years ago today when her lungs collapsed, we saw no hope. Only fear was in our hearts as we awaited any news from the doctor. This fear is something each and every one of us knows. Fear is guaranteed, but knowing hope is never for certain and can be a privilege denied to many. Hope is the greatest gift we can give one another, and through Mom's cancer she gave us that hope.
We still joke about mom's Vienna Sausage diet and when I saw this Snack Paintings patch at Fogtown I needed it. It's on my camera bag to serve as a reminder of our inability to control anything but ourselves, and that no matter how faint or unimaginable, there's always hope.