How does your tumor grow?

A friend once told me how difficult it was for her to adjust to the military way of life. She had grown up a product of prosperity. Her father had discovered some necessary component to something in the music industry and had made a tidy fortune in the process. There were fancy cars and vacation houses, famous people sleeping over and all the things that go along with the lifestyles of the rich (or poor) and self-absorbed.

She was not the least bit prepared to be a military wife. All that talk of politics and war, and deployments and training. Everything was so dadgum important and everybody was so dadgum serious.

“Sometimes I want to talk about the latest nail color,” she declared.

We both laughed at the shallowness behind such a comment. But I’m here to tell you that there is value to talking about nothing of import. I am hungry for a conversation that isn’t in any way shape or form the least bit important.

Speaking of tomatoes, Granddaughter Amy brought Mama one she’d grown in her own self. It was the size of a pumpkin. Okay. Not really but it was honking big. We sliced that baby up and Grandma had herself a mayo and tomato sandwich on white bread. When the kitchen aide failed to provide Mama with the salt she wanted for that ‘mater, Mama put her foot down.

“I want some salt with my tomato.”

The aide returned to the room and handed over a small packet of salt.

“Thank you very much,” Mama said.

My high school girlfriends and I nicknamed Mama Dragon Lady years ago, because Mama could breath fire from time to time. It’s an awe-inspiring and troubling thing to witness.

Hours after eating that tomato and salt and mayo sandwich Mama was sitting on the edge of yet another hospital bed discussing DNR wishes.

She’d called me a few weeks ago and asked me to write her obit. Out of blue, just like that. Your brother is handling my burial. Your sister is handling my memorial service. I need you to write my obit, she said.

I was not in the mood for discussing obits. I’d just returned home from a cross-country speaking gig and was preparing for the birth of my first grandchild. Employing my best version of the Dragon Lady I told Mama that I wasn’t in any mood to talk about obits.

Sometimes a girl just wants to talk about the color of nail polish.

Or the size of a tomato, not a brain tumor.

But at the time, I didn’t know Mama had tumors growing in her brain and lungs. And if she suspected that something was the matter she wasn’t saying.

So today we had the obit talk again. And the DNR talk. And the burial plan talk. Mama, and her three kids. I don’t drink whiskey but by the end of this day, I felt like I needed to.

There’s all sorts of good news to report thanks to the prayers of God’s people. In a midnight caper, Mama got moved to the University of Washington Medical Center and I can’t say enough great things about the staff there. They must all be imports from Lake Woebegon, where “all the women are strong, all the men are handsome and all the children are above average.”

We met with so many teams of doctors today I felt like I was on the movie set of Grey’s Anatomy. Every single one of those groups were charming and personable and they all took the time to greet us, and to double-check that we all understood the serious nature of Mama’s health. They were relentless about making sure we understood the options available for this day and what the risks with each one might be.

Unfortunately the options are intricately complicated. Thankfully for Mama we have a family member who works on a surgical team at the hospital and she is smart and strong and unceasingly inquisitive and she has helped us wade through the mine field of options. But doing all that took all day long because when you are working with teams like that, it’s like conducting a military operation. You have to develop the best plan of action and then you have to deal with all the logistics necessary to implement that plan. When war is involved that includes moving artillery and troops and putting boots on the ground.

Thank you Charlie and Ann for the beautiful flowers

That’s basically what happened today. We met the troops. We all went over the battle plan. Tonight the logistics of that plan are being tended to. And tomorrow, Mama will go in for a CT-guided biopsy. As you might guess, the lung tumor is hiding in a stubborn place.

Mama is rightfully anxious about the battle plan. She expressed that anxiety to the resident doctor, who stood in front of my mother, placed one hand on her shoulder and said, “I would recommend this plan to my own mother.” Mama took as deep a breath as she could and exhaled. “You need to sit for a moment and take in all this family support you have.”

Once more there was standing room only around Grandma’s bed.

The doctors have all remarked upon the number of family members Mama has supporting her. Mama only has three children but between us we have blessed her with 13 grandchildren and four great-grandsons… one on the way. We can be an overwhelming lot when we gather with spouses in-tow.

And don’t you know every single one of us is a lively soul.

Well, with the exception of Uncle Buck who was able to sleep through even the most dramatically technical discussions. Until his brother-in-law leaned in to kiss the prince awake.

Confident of the battle plan, and the prayers of God’s people, I kissed Mama goodbye and came home.

While the troops gather at Mama’s bedside on Tuesday, I’ll be at the county fair judging artwork. I could have probably found someone else to fill in but sometimes a girl just needs to talk about something else besides How does your tumor grow? 

So somebody tell me something awesome that’s happened to you lately…



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  • ddjrfd

    I’ve had the honor to be able to add a wonderfully special family to my prayers

  • Al

    My Lovely Lady has never been to our County Fair. Tomorrow we’re off to spend the day together ogling the wonders of talented hands, epicurean delights and ‘all creatures great and small’ tended by loving, knowledgeable youngsters. But that’s tomorrow. Today we’ll be praying for a legendary Mama and her kin.

    • Oh… elephant ears and cotton candy. And be careful where you step when you visit those barns. Mama and Daddy’s first date was to the county fair.

  • Gloria

    Thank you Karen for the updates. It is great to know that your Mama is surrounded by her family and the best in the medical field. Something awesome is happening here on Saturday. Our Zach is being commissioned to 2nd Lieutenant in a formal ceremony on the grounds of the Department of the Military. This is the end of a long journey for him and the beginning of another. We will never forget how you shared the beginning of the journey with us in Georgia. That trip will never be forgotten.

    • Yes, that was a wonderful trip. Gloria. Such an honor to be there with you for that. Tell Zach I said congrads and give him a hug for me. We’re all proud of him.

  • Dee

    My daughter who has lived in So. Cal for 7 years moved home and arrived last night with her husband and my two grandbabies….what joy it was to have them ‘home’ to Oregon….Such joy…my husband even said…”wow…you are just silly tonight!” I must of been more excited than I thought!
    Lifting you and the family to our Lord Jesus in prayer.

    • Oh, how I loved this Dee! So glad you have your daughter and her family back with you. Tell her that Oregon is a much better place to raise kids than So. Cal! LOL!

  • Paulette

    My dear friend spent much of last month in critical care in the local hospital. She has a dengenerative disease. Over the years, I’ve seen her rally but I didn’t think she’d make it out alive this time; yet I prayed…I prayed God would give her the peace to go be with Him or give her strength to get out and tidy up the lose ends in her life and arrange care for her father. Miraculously she returned home to once again live independently and maneuver in her electric wheelchair. Last Friday 7 of us gathered with her at a local restaurant to celebrate her 54th BD. Food, cards, presents! She was like a happy little kid. She was so appreciative. We all knew we were in the presence of a very special woman.

    • Love that your friend clings stubbornly to life. It is hope that makes us do that, I think. Happy birthday to her!

  • Amy Sorrells

    I’ve seen beauty in the heart strung words of a brave woman helping her mama fight one of life’s greatest battles. And her sword of truth swings wide and strong.

  • Ann Hite

    My granddaughter told me I was the bestess granny ever and could she live with me 😉

  • Thinking of you, love you and praying for each of you.
    I did not know about your mother’s illness since i had not been on Facebook for several days. Thank you for being my special friend.

  • Stan Harstine, Ph.D.

    This summer I’ve had the chance to make not one but two different batches of old-fashioned blueberry muffins from a 1986 Southern Living cookbook. I even included real butter! The little things are the living things. BTW, my dad died this summer with a family around him. I wrote the obit.