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"I never wanted to be good."

My family received some terrible news this past holiday season. I am a wreck, have been for weeks now, and I think I am finally ready to talk about why.

As you may know, my mother's been battling lung cancer for the last four years. Three days before Christmas, she lost function on the right side of her body. She couldn’t use that hand properly, couldn’t stand on that leg, and she seemed a bit cloudy, like she couldn’t think straight. We took her to the hospital on December 22nd. Mom dreads the hospital, after all the time she’s been stuck in them for her treatments, but things seemed bad enough that we had to go. All we could do was get her checked out and pray.

She got a CAT scan which told us what happened. Things were bad. The cancer had metastasized, and she had significant lesion development in both halves of her brain. The swelling was pressing on her brain and impairing her function. The sort of thing that you don’t get better from.

The doctor started crying himself when he gave us the news. Bless him for that. It was a good contrast to the parade of doctors and nurses that day who were content to sashay through as if we hadn’t just had our world blown apart. I can’t for the life of me understand why these people just don’t freaking share information when something this serious happens.

We all sat there quietly for a while. It’s not like we didn’t know this was coming someday. She’s a stage-four lung cancer patient. But now it’s finally come. I started crying very softly to myself. Everyone else was quiet. Taking it in. Processing it. This is my family. What does it say that, of all of us, I’m the one who’s the pussy?

Later I saw that Dad had tears in his eyes. I’ve never seen my dad cry before. He is a tough man. I can't begin to express how much so. I heard he got misty at his mother’s funeral, though I didn’t see it myself. And he says he cried when I was born sick, and when John Lennon was shot. Not quite sure I believe that. But this was the first time I’d ever seen it. The world must really be ending.

I spent a long time just watching them together. My mother and my father. They’ve been dealing with the reality of cancer every day since she was diagnosed. She is tough, she has fought this bravely, tirelessly, has been as on top of her own care as anyone can possibly be, but she’s needed him, she would never have gotten through without him there to take care of her. And he’s done it. Completely rearranged his life to be there for her.


I took this picture of them. I probably shouldn’t have. It was kind of intruding on their privacy. We are private people, and Mom hates pictures of herself these days. I don’t think my mother or father would be completely comfortable with everything I’m sharing here. But… I want to remember this moment. I want to remember what these things look like.

It isn’t often that we get the chance to really show our quality. Most of the time we just get to muddle through our mundane lives, getting by with doing a decent job. Even if you want to, there’s not many chances to step up and be a hero. To show just how deeply you love. But in times like these… it reveals you. It reveals what you really have inside you.

Almost forty years ago now, just before they got married, they spoke to the priest who was going to perform the ceremony. My father spoke to him first, and when it was my mother’s turn that priest said, “He’s selfish. Don’t marry him.” My parents tell that story laughing. It’s not even completely false. My dad has always been the sort of man who does exactly what he wants to do. But I wish that priest could see my parents now. “Now I know why they say ‘for better or for worse,’” Dad said. “But for me it doesn’t feel like ‘for worse.’ I just want to take care of her.”

I’m proud of the man who is my father.

And there's Mom herself. Dad says that he knows there must be some good in him, because he's been loved by the two kindest women he ever knew-- his mother, and mine. I still can't believe how bravely she's endured all this. The pain, the weakness. The ravages of the treatments. The increasing helplessness. The loss of two of her most remarkable traits, her easy capability and her striking beauty. The constant sense of impending doom. When she was first diagnosed, she was told she had maybe six months. She ended up getting four years, so as she said, "This is no more of a death sentence than I ever had." She wants to live, she wants to be there for us, so she keeps going on, keeps fighting. For love of us. For love.

You want to know what love is? Let me tell you. My whole family came down with chest colds that week, my mom worst of all because of her compromised condition. Love is when you’re sitting in the hospital, dying of the tumors in your lungs and your brain, and you save one of the strong Mucinex they give you so you can pass it on to your husband for his cold.

And she's still facing her death with strength and dignity. I have been called strong, but I am only the reflection of the bright steel inside her. I'm proud of the woman who is my mother.

How blessed I am. To be their child. To have seen this. I want to remember what this looks like. What that sort of love looks like. What my parents loving each other looks like, while I still can.

Adversity introduces a man to himself. I wonder if God allows bad things to happen to give us a chance to be good in a way we never could otherwise. I mentioned this to my dad. His response was, “I never wanted to be good.” Of course, that’s probably the point. And whatever awfulness comes from this, however terrible it is, at least I’ve seen this. I’ve seen how much my parents love each other. I’ve seen how good they can be.

It’s a costly gift, one I must treasure. My mother buys it with her life.

They couldn’t give us a time frame on how long they expect her to have. There are treatments they can do, radiation, continuing with her current chemo. But the five-year survival rate for patients with her sort of lung cancer is in the single digits, even without the brain tumors. She could have a few months, six months, maybe a year if we’re lucky. They think they can keep her lucid and stable until the end, which is about as much as we can hope to have. Her doctors are dedicated to helping her. She's always been the sort of person who inspires love and goodwill from others, but having seen how far she's come against such odds, with how intelligent, aware, and committed she's been to her own treatments, how bravely she's taken on the suffering that is part of it, she's made people care that she makes it. So she's still getting treatments, both for her lungs and for her brain. Because it might give her a bit more time with us, a bit more time for those she loves.

I shouldn't dwell on it now, but I can't help but look ahead to what life will be like without her. I can't imagine. How I dithered around, trying to make sure everything she wasn't able to do was ready for Christmas, and was struck by how much she does, so effortlessly, so well, that leaves me at a loss. Everything I've ever done-- from the way I lay a table to the way I go through the struggles of life --has been trying to live up to her creativity, her grace, her selfless goodness, her steely inner strength. What will I do if she's not there to show me how? And there's all the things she's going to miss. If I ever become a successful writer, she won't be there to see it. She won't be at my wedding. She won't help me take care of my first baby. She won't see me ever get past my stupid pride and arrogance and meanness to be the kind of selfless, giving person she was.

We are all doing the best we can. Being loving, be there for each other, as long as we still have her. Our hearts break, but we are strong. We have a good family, we've always said. We have our love for each other. And so we'll get through somehow. I have iron inside me, which I hope one day will be tempered into my mother's steel. But I am wrecked now. I am going to be wrecked for a very long time.

Pray for us.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 18th, 2013 06:41 pm (UTC)
This was beautifully written. Your parents are lucky to have a child who admires them so much, and through your words, inspires admiration in others. You and your family have nothing but my best, warmest wishes and thoughts.
Jan. 18th, 2013 08:48 pm (UTC)
You and your family are amazing people --- my thoughts are with you.
Jan. 18th, 2013 09:58 pm (UTC)
Fuck Cancer. Too many good people have been taken by it. Even if it is 'their time' or according to a greater plan, it doesn't make it better or easier on anyone. I may have come to terms with losses, but not with the disease.

Thank you for speaking about the unspoken strengths in people. Thank you for recognizing that sometimes it takes more strength to talk about it than to keep it inside.

My thoughts are with you and your family, and if there is anything I can do for you, no matter how small, I'm listening.
Jan. 18th, 2013 11:12 pm (UTC)
I am so sorry to hear this. My thoughts are with you and your family.
Jan. 19th, 2013 02:33 am (UTC)
I'm sorry to hear of your struggle, and that of your family. There really aren't words sufficient to convey anything helpful in this situation, but... good luck. I'm sure you will face whatever is to come as best you can and bravely.
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 19th, 2013 04:02 pm (UTC)
Oh hon. You are exceptionally brave, and this was exceptionally poetic. It breaks my heart to think of you and your family suffering. I wish you all the strength you need to get through this.
Jan. 21st, 2013 06:58 pm (UTC)
I am so sorry. Lung cancer took my grandmother. It is a horrible horrible disease. Prayers are with your for strength and comfort.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

About Me

My name is Phoebe. I'm Boston area theater professional and English professor focused in writing, acting, directing, and modeling. I'm known for having lots of interests, lots of opinions about those interests, and a very high estimation of the value thereof. This blog is for talking about whatever's on my mind, from my daily life to my activities to musing on any number of abstract topics. Thanks for taking the time to read.

My productions:

Upcoming Productions:

MRS. HAWKING part 2 and 3

at the Watch City Steampunk Festival 2016

presented by The Chameleon's Dish

Vivat Regina
by Phoebe Roberts

at 2PM


Base Instruments
by Phoebe Roberts

at 6PM

Saturday, May 13th 2017
at 274 Moody Street, Waltham, MA

Other Achievements:

"The Tailor at Loring's End" screenplay
Quarter Finalist in the Final Draft Big Break Screenwriting Competition 2013

"Adonis" screenplay
Top Ten Percent in the Bluecat Screenwriting Contest 2015

Latest Month

April 2017


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