I’ve received more bad news this month than I ever did my entire life.
3 weeks ago…
Mom: Hello. I’m in the hospital.
Me: What? Why? Is it your diabetes?
Mom: No, I’m having a stomach-ache. Nothing fancy. I had myself admitted so that I will have a reason to get some time off. I’m on grave yard shift this week.
(My mother is playing hookey. She is hard-working but grave yard shift is killing her.)
4 days later…
Mom: I’m still at the hospital.
Me: Whoa! Isn’t that over-extending?
Mom: Actually, my stomach-ache has increased in magnitude and none of the medication seems to be working. They are trying to find out what is wrong with me.
Me: Perhaps it’s gastroenteritis.
Mom: Well, they’ve given me something for that but it’s not working. I’ll call you when they find out. I hope they do soon because I’m bored. I wanna go back to work.
(My mother is not always this fickle.)
After 2 days…
Dad: I’ve scheduled her to go through all these tests. Her stomach-ache has gone worse.
Me: Our CEO will be in town this week and I will be in a lot of meetings. But call me as soon as you know something.
After another 2 days…
Dad: The ultrasound picked up a mass just under her stomach. She has to go through an endoscopy and biopsy.
Me: What? What mass? How big is it?
Dad: I don’t know. It’s a mass. How big could it be? I will call you when they know what it is.
(My father is worried like hell but he is not really a detail-oriented person. And really. You have to wait one week after hospital confinement before they find out what is wrong with you? Third-world medical system. Unbelievable.)
2 days later (July 11, Wednesday)
Me: Well? Did they get the result of the biopsy?
Dad: Not yet. We probably won’t know until Saturday.
Me: Ok, that is it. I’m coming home. I’ll be there on Friday. I’ll need to get tickets for me and the baby and make some arrangement from work so I’ll be busy tomorrow but pick us up at the port on Friday.
Saturday morning (seeing my mom for the first time after 2 months)…
Me: Mom, your stick-thin! Look at you! Look at your arms. You’re just skin and bones.
Mom: I can’t keep food down. I keep throwing it up so I stopped eating.
Me: Dad! How can you let this happen!
Dad: Don’t look at me. You know how she is.
(My mother has a mind of her own. You really can’t tell her to do something she doesn’t like.)
Monday morning (facing a new doctor who was referred by the previous one…)
Doctor: We got the result of the biopsy this morning. The mass we found just below your stomach is a tumor. Actually, it is cancer. You have stomach cancer.
Doctor: Unfortunately, that is all we know for now. That is all the biopsy can tell us. We do not know the extent of it yet. That is why I’m going to advise you to undergo another series of tests. Would you want to do that?
Me, Mom, and Dad: Yes! (louder than necessary)
Doctor: Good. I will need you to sign a consent form.
(As if the tests will kill my mother. Before, I felt like we were all waiting for a death sentence. Now, the death sentence has come and we are waiting for the day of the execution. Morbid, I know.)
Doctor: It was worse than we thought.
(Deafening silence. At this point, I felt like I was being executed and it was death by bludgeoning with a heavy object. I do not know how my mother felt. I could not remember very well the conversation that transpired but it went along these lines.)
Doctor: The cancer had already eaten up half of your stomach. It is obstructing the food’s way out of the stomach that is why you are always vomiting when you eat. The good news is it hasn’t spread to your other internal organs yet and based on the CT Scan, it is not connected to any major blood vessels so we should be able to remove it. Of course, that is not a guarantee. We need to be able to see it ourselves before we can know for sure. But there is hope.
(A silver lining which I failed to comprehend at the time. All I really saw was the word cancer and what I thought was a tumor. I’ve never seen a tumor before but I was pretty certain that ugly thing I was imagining was a tumor. I only saw the dark side of the situation. I never even knew I had that in me.)
Doctor: So we have two options. Number one is for you to undergo an operation that will remove the affected area. That is what I will recommend. That is your best chance of survival. Number two, if we find out that we cannot remove it because it is after all attached to a major blood vessel, we will need to do a bypass. In this procedure, we will disconnect your intestine to where it is currently attached to your stomach and reconnect it to the upper part of your stomach which is not yet affected by the cancer. This way you can eat without throwing up. But since we are not able to remove the cancer, it will grow bigger and spread and your chances of survival…
(The good doctor trailed off at that part, that much I can remember. I cannot believe a medical practitioner will do that. Were we supposed to fill in the blanks?)
Doctor: So those are our options. I recommend we do the first one. But it’s entirely up to you whether we do anything or not. Do you need a moment to decide?
(There is only really one option, you moron. My mother does not have a death wish. She’s 56 and can kick your ass in physical combat if she did not have cancer. I was not really angry with the doctor. He had been very kind to us. I was just angry, period.)
Mom: I do not need a moment to decide. Let’s do the removal procedure.
Doctor: Ok, we will do the operation on Friday. I will give you 2 days to regain your strength for the operation. You have not been eating very well so you are weak. You will not be eating through your mouth anymore. We will have food introduced to your system through an IV. You will be transfused with blood one day before the operation. Another doctor will check you on Thursday and declare you fit for operation. If she does not give you clearance, we will have to postpone the operation. Do you understand?
Doctor: Ok, then. I will go ahead and make arrangements.
(She was wheeled to the operating room at 10 am. My brother, my dad’s sister and I accompanied her until just outside the OR. We let my dad stay at her hospital room to rest. He is faint-hearted. We do not want him to have a heart attack out of stress and anxiety over my mother’s condition. We waited the whole day. At 4:30pm, at last…)
Nurse: The doctor wants to see you.
Me: They are done operating?
Nurse: Yes. All other questions, the doctor can answer.
(We waited another 30 minutes outside of the OR before the doctor showed up.)
Doctor: Where is your dad?
Me: He is upstairs. We’ll be the ones to tell him.
Doctor: Ok, here is the part we removed from your mother.
(Whereupon, he showed us bloody stuff in a pan.)
Doctor: This is half of your mother’s stomach that we had to cut off. This is the tumor here…
(He pointed to a thing that was protruding on the thing. The Tumor. It is ugly but not as ugly as I thought. I’ve always had a bad imagination.
But I did not wait all this time to see a god-damned tumor.)
Me: How is the operation?
Doctor: We were able to remove it as you can see…
Me: So it’s successful?
Doctor: Yes, it was successful.
(Big sigh of relief from all of us.)
Doctor: She is not out of danger just yet. The next two days will be crucial. She will be wheeled into the recovery room for another 4 hours. After that she will be taken back to her room where she will continue to be monitored. We need to avoid her getting an infection in the lungs or in the wound…
(I did not hear the rest of it. The operation was successful. It is the best news I have heard for a long time. The only good news I have heard in 3 weeks, in fact. Fortunately, it is the news the mattered.)