Rebuking the Powers of Cancer

Rebuking the Powers of Cancer September 9, 2012

We were sitting outside a drugstore. My sister-in-law was inside, picking up a couple of things.

Mama sat quietly in the passenger seat. Reading isn’t the only thing she can’t do. Mama doesn’t drive either.

Well, that’s if you discount the backseat driving she does. “Get in the HOV lane,” she tells me when we head north towards the hospital. “And step on it.” Mama always liked to drive fast and she likes anyone driving her to drive fast, too. I stubbornly refuse to drive over the speed limit. I have enough problems to deal with right now. I still can’t find the wallet I lost between the hospital and home a week ago. Don’t worry, I’ve gotten the new license, new debit card. Still. It’s unsettling to lose an entire wallet. I mean, I’ve never in my life lost a wallet before, have you?

She’s not like Samson. After Mama lost her hair she started getting stronger. She can walk two laps around the yard, instead of one. She showered herself for the first time in a month. (One of us was there with her the entire time, but she stood up and did it all by herself.) On this particular day, we took a trip to her favorite produce stand in Enumclaw. She wanted some homegrown tomatoes. I wanted some apples. We poked around the town, which is quaint and has the best handicap accessible sidewalks I’ve ever seen. No curbs so Mama could wheel right up to the store-fronts.

But the stronger she gets physically, the more mournful she becomes.

I know because she turned to me while my sister-in-law was in Walgreens and said, “I wish this was curable and not just treatable. The doctors said it is treatable but not curable. I wish it were curable.”

She didn’t look at me when she said it. She looked straight ahead, like she was talking to passing traffic.

It is an odd turn of events, this moment when daughters seek to comfort mothers. Not that mine haven’t had to do that a time or two themselves. My daughters have often encouraged me, prayed for me, cheered me on, and jerked me out of despair. My son has as well.  So, odd as it may seem, this role-reversal, I am not unfamiliar with it.

Still, I paused before saying anything back to Mama. What words of comfort did I have to offer? Should I have reached for her hand and prayed right then and there in the Blood of Christ for her to be healed by God Almighty? Should I have rebuked the powers of Satan and Cancer?

College educations are of very little use in moments like these. I read all those Kubler-Ross books on death and dying and yet, I wasn’t sure what the right thing to say to Mama in that moment was so I said the only thing that made any sense to me.

“I wish it were curable, too, Mama.”

And then silence fell over the car again. Nobody cried or wailed, although, that seems to me to be an entirely appropriate response. You can bet that if I were in my mother’s shoes there would be a lot of that on my behalf. I am a girl who believes in a weeping- and-the-gnashing-of-teeth sort of mourning.

I had this dream all night long. I’d stir then lapse right back into it. It was like that TV drama 24-Hours. That’s all I had. Doctors had determined that I was going to die at 5 o’clock p.m. I wasn’t sick. Nothing. Just my wick was going to burn out. I was going to draw my last breath. Everybody kept staring at me with a pitiful look on their faces. They kept measuring every word they were saying to me. They treated me like I was ignorant, as if I were in the dark about the reality of the passing of time. And yet, I kept looking right back at them like they were stupid. Like they couldn’t understand the doctors were all wrong. I was healthy as all-get out. Why in the world would they think I was dying?

I’ve seen my mother cry more in the past month than I did in a lifetime of living prior. My children are used to a mama who bawls. I am not.


What hope or comfort would you/have you added in such moments?


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  • Deborah Hayward

    The comfort of being there… one wants to be alone.

    • That has been one of the great ironies in all of this, Deborah. My mother spent a lifetime alone but now that she is dying she doesn’t want to be left alone for a second.

  • Samantha Clough

    I am asking myself the same questions with regards to my Mom. The doctors haven’t come right out to say the cancer is only treatable, but I can read between the lines. I know what we’re facing for the near future. And I have no idea of how to be there for a mother with whom I have always had a difficult relationship. And yet, here I am.

    • Sam: You know from reading After the Flag that my relationship with Mama has long been a complicated one. I remember when we were coming back from Vietnam the psychologist on the trip said to me that they always had assumed the most difficult relationship for the children left behind would be between mothers and daughters. He never really explained that any further and I never really asked more. It just made sense to me in some backwards way.

  • As you know Karen, I’ve just written a book called “Things Not To Say To Someone Who Has Cancer.” Because I had cancer, and sometimes those awkward silences and unspoken words can tear us apart when we need most to just sit with those things, allow them to come. Folks need support, they need affirmation, that this isn’t supposed to happen, yet still, it’s happening, and we must do it whether we want to or not.
    My prayers and thoughts are with you and your family in this time Karen. What a marvelous family you have.

  • Cathy

    Karen…You are doing just right. Being in the moment. Being with your beloved mama. I sat with both my aunts, who I love greatly as they made their way through cancer. Just being with them was enough…even though I always brought little gifts of solace. It was not being alone that meant the most to them. This I know….

  • karin

    Every person’s response to the news of having cancer is unique! Both hubby and I received the news, in the midst of our move to a supportive housing manor last November, that he had Parkinson’s and prostate cancer and I had breast cancer. After all the surgeries and treatments, life goes on, and with slow growing cancers could go on another decade! Or we could get the call to come home simply crossing a busy street! Meanwhile, we are growing in faith, trust, grace, prayer and love, we are waning in strength, energy, social skills, motivation, and though people make wonderful, supportive, encouraging comments or totally out to lunch comments, we know that God will never leave us or forsake us. The most supportive, beside our grown children and their families, has been a former colleague – someone I least expected to be there for us.

    May He be your source of comfort, strength and hope for the days and years to come!
    To Him alone be glory as He leads you all through this difficult valley!

  • KAM

    I have been where you are now. In many ways, though my mom has been gone for many years now, I am still sitting beside her as she loses the battle. Still curling up next to her on her hospital bed. She was somehow comforted by the simple fact that I lived, akin to the joy we feel when we realize we have given birth to a new life. She relished my life. I relished hers. She still looks at me. I look at her. We are separated, and that makes me weep still. But love goes on, is stronger than death.

  • Diana Trautwein

    This part is so hard, isn’t it? My mom does not have cancer, she has dementia and she knows it. And there is really nothing to say except, “I’m so sorry.” Or, “I know, Mom, I know.” Except I DON”T know – not really. But what else is there to do/say/think/offer? Occasionally, we do talk about God’s faithfulness, even in the middle of this wrenchingly difficult process. And I cry out to God a lot – on behalf of both of us. Because it’s not easy being the daughter of a sick, aging mama either, is it? Thanks for the honesty of this – we need lots more of it.

  • JC Wall-Sister

    All I can say is cherish every moment. . . .the good, the bad and the ugly <3 Does she lose her beanies when she sleeps, I do 🙂