Confessions of a Children's Author

Thursday, March 30, 2006

No "Plan B"

Well, I've now reached a point where the first thought as soon as I wake up is not "my mother's gone"--now it's the second or third thought.

I heard somewhere once that sadness is so often parlayed into anger because then blame can shift from oneself to someone else, and it's easier for people to be mad than to be sad. Right now, I'm both. I was reading People Magazine two weeks ago, and in the article about Dana Reeve, there was a comment that she and her family had hoped that she would be part of the 2% of people who are diagnosed with lung cancer that survive five years or more. Given that my mother had died of the same kind of cancer as Dana Reeve ("the non-smoker's lung cancer", I always feel I have to tell people), I felt a wallop of emotion when I saw this statistic. My mother had never said anything that had implied that the situation was so dire. She had said things like "I'm going to fight it and I'm going to beat it because it's not my time to go yet," as if that alone was enough to turn medical statistics on their ears. When the radiation had shrunken the tumor significantly but the doctors still couldn't do surgery because it was still in a difficult place in the lung for them to remove it, my mother kept insisting that her prognosis was still good, even though I was skeptical. "My doctor told me she thinks there's no reason why they won't be able to shrink the tumor until it's gone, and then they'll just keep checking on me," she said. Maybe it's because I didn't really want to believe otherwise, but all she kept spouting to me was the positive. She pooh-poohed the doctor who told her to get her affairs in order (he loudly told her this in front of a roomful of her roommates visitors, but some of the a**hole doctors she had is a whole other issue I won't get into at the moment), and instead latched onto the words of the doctors who kept telling her that they would be able to help her.

There are probably some people who think that I only heard what I wanted to hear, or that my mother really knew the graveness of her situation and was just selective in what she told me because she was being protective, but there is a history of my parents never preparing a back-up plan, of them never entertaining the possibility that things won't go as they want them to, and I believe that my mother thought that if she didn't even consider the possibility of dying from this cancer, then she wouldn't, and for that I feel profoundly sad, angry and betrayed. Case in point: my mother had no will. When she had her final stay in the hospital, my father downloaded some generic form that basically signed everything over to him (opening up a financial and emotional can of worms, but that, again, is a whole other issue I won't get into at the moment). What would be the first thing I would do if I was diagnosed with a potentially terminal disease? I'd make sure my will was up to date--just in case.

When my father's business was having some trouble years back, my parents took out a business loan. What did they use as collateral? Our house. What happened next? The business went under and our house went, too. When my parents were renting a house not too long ago, they knew that their landlady's daughter was eventually going to move back in and they'd have to move. Even after the landlady told them that her daughter was going out of the country and was going to move home in two years, my parents bought a greenhouse for the yard, planted rose bushes and a vegetable garden, and ignored my scoldings that they were settling in just a bit too much for a house they didn't own. What happened next? The daughter hated living overseas and came back early, and the landlady gave them 90 days to move. And even moving day came down to a chaotic, unprepared mess, but yes, that's another story. So, this is why I believe that my mother just didn't think about the possibility that she could die from this cancer, that it wasn't just a matter of her believing in the power of positive thinking, that it was not having a contingency plan. And as much as I loved (and still do) my mother, I'm angry at her (and my father, who became seemingly enraged on the phone any time that I tried to ask if the prognosis was anything less than positive) for not preparing herself for this. Or especially not preparing me.

Not that anyone wants to consider that they might not be a part of the small percentage to overcome a particular disease, but I feel that people should always prepare a Plan B. It's like insurance--hopefully you won't need it, but in case you do, at least it's there.


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