On Sunday, May 21st, 2017 at 1:24 pm my mother Emily Ann Lewis-Knight found her pony and rode on home. Her exit was swift and sure, and I was just happy to be there with her to say goodbye for now.
Mom’s journey was one that was followed by many. Sparking fears in some that had them running from both of us, and instilling hope in others, drawing them near.
Whenever anyone would ask me “How do you continue to do this?” I always thought it a strange query.
How could I NOT do it?
It has been my honor to help my Mom and my pleasure to get the opportunity to spend so much time getting to know the essence of such a beautiful soul.
Through mind-blowingly real times we laughed, cried and found a soul connection that few experience. Her exit leaves me sad, but also calm without her because we prepared for it together.
By God’s grace we were given this gift of time.
A perfect trip to the beach weeks before, followed by a fun Mother’s Day cooking my first quiche under her expert tutelage, and a day together the day before she died where my daughter and I visited as though it would go on forever.
Nothing was left unsaid and the strong bonds forged of love remain.
Cancer Patients Can Be Organ Donors
The night Mom died I was called by the hospital around 11 pm asking if I’d authorize the donation of her eyes, something that would have to occur within the next three hours.
The call came out of the blue and blindsided me for a minute. The conversation that followed was difficult however I’d only seconds before been looking through her wallet and found her organ donor card.
Mom had discussed organ donation with me previously, but she didn’t think it was possible due to her chemotherapy treatment. Much to my surprise she was eligible to help by donating her eyes.
Two questions came up in my conversation with the hospital regarding Mom’s organ donation.
- What if we want to have a viewing? I wanted to have a viewing for those who wanted to see her, but I didn’t want her not to look like herself. FYI… they replace the eyes with prosthetics. (You can’t tell a thing.)
- Doesn’t chemotherapy negate organ donation? Yes and no. It’s evaluated on an individual basis with some donors being eligible. It’s taken on a case by case basis.
It should be noted that if you are an organ donor it doesn’t cost you a thing to sign-up, nor does it cost your family to give the OK.
You can designate what can specifically be donated too, although cases are still evaluated individually and not all organs are viable in all cases.
Elderly can donate, and funeral plans won’t be delayed by organ donation.
If you want to sign up to be an organ donor you can generally sign-up via your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles or do a Google search for “How to become an organ donor” and your state.
What Worked For Us
It was 2005 when Mom found out she had two aortic aneurysms.
She was terrified they’d blow any day, but they were still a centimeter from being eligible for insurance to pay to repair them. (Hers were 4cm and they would have to be 5cm.) Instead of a repair, she’d be having CT scans every 6 months for the next 12 years to watch and wait.
Worrying all the time about whether or not today is the day you’re going to die is no way to live.
Mom shrugged and let it go as there were still many hills yet to climb.
Among them two heart attacks, breast cancer requiring a lumpectomy, a spontaneous hip fracture and subsequent pulmonary embolism, blood clots in her legs, lung cancer diagnosis, lung resection surgery to remove a section of her lung containing the cancer, pancreatic cancer and 16 months of palliative chemo treatment including a glorious 4 month remission last summer.
Of course we did worry again and again about her health issues, but we both said our prayers throughout and had faith in God and each other.
This habit of faithfulness and lots of laughter about all the absurdities that came along with each new challenge gave us an incredible bond.
Something that had been very strong for the past twenty years became divinely indestructible.
I knew her secrets and she knew mine. We’d apologized where we needed to, and forgave real and perceived slights.
Some would say we were in an enviably good place.
This got me to thinking about what I learned through the process and what advice I would share with other family members and caregivers taking care of cancer patients.
A Cancer Diagnosis Is Not A Death Sentence
Being diagnosed with any form of cancer doesn’t mean life is over.
Yes, we all have an expiration date and some of us get a heads up on that one with a cancer diagnosis, but then again there’s peril everywhere if you choose to focus your energies there. Don’t do it. You’ll feel better and it will make the hard battle ahead easier for you and the patient.
Swear, Cry and Bake Brownies
It’s OK to get mad.
Cancer sucks and watching someone who has cancer change emotionally, physically and mentally is gut wrenching at times. Cursing like a sailor helped me, as did sobbing in my car after I’d left Mom’s driveway. Brownies… well, chocolate is a cure-all in my book but admittedly I’m a nervous eater.
Love Big All The Time
Be fully present in each moment. Put your electronics down. Look into each others eyes when you talk. Hold hands when you sit and wait for an appointment. Laugh about silly stuff. Take the lead when needed. Back off and allow for autonomy if possible. Be gentle and honest in your approach. Let the moments dictate what comes next.
And be grateful for the moments.
Whether you have 5 minutes or 50 years to live, dig for the pony.
I promise you, it’s worth it!