My brother called me at the end of my work day to share the report from the surgery: the tumor was "remarkably large," larger than they typically see. And her cervix felt "strange" so the surgeon thinks it is involved, also; too soon to say if the tumor spread to or from there.
It's funny, I'm remembering now the pattern with my dad's illness and my reaction to all the steps in the journey.
Because, you see, cancer isn't this piece of bad news you get and deal with.
It's this incredibly long string of little pieces of bad news. So very many days get to be ruined by little pieces of bad news. Here's how they go.
First, there's the strange calm as I receive the news via phone, generally in the clinic where I work, my mind elsewhere. I am intellectually processing the information, but marveling at my lack of emotional involvement. I hear the words, but it's almost as if we are discussing a patient. I ask astute questions, answer other questions politely, even make merry comments.
Then we get off the phone, and I marvel again, at how quickly my cheerful attitude evaporates. A dense, grey fog settles over me, like it crept over the San Francisco hills in the years I lived there. I feel frozen. Neither happy or sad, just... numb.
And then I get home, and it's the evening, and I'm in a black mood. I'm pissed off. I don't want to do this, dammit. I've been through this with one parent already. I don't want to do it again.
I distract myself with senseless entertainment. Tonight I watched an episode of Parenthood, a blessed relief... which would've been better if one of the characters hadn't been suffering the ill effects of her first round of chemotherapy. But it was still good, still an escape. I don't want to talk to anyone, don't have anything to say.
But when I called my brother to ask how my mother was feeling, my mom answered his phone, so we had a nice chat. She sounded like herself, despite having been under general anesthesia earlier today. She asked about Calliope. I racked my mind for cute details of my girl's day. I acted and sounded exactly like normal, cheerful and constructive, until I got off the phone. God forbid I share any part of my emotional landscape. That's not part of the way I do things in this particular play.
Now I'm planning to download the new Anne Lamott book, because I deserve a treat, and because sometimes her spiritual wanderings speak to me. I could use that tonight. My Kindle and I will curl up in bed, and I will wait for the anger to leave.
In the morning, I expect that I will have re-adjusted to today's new normal. And my anger will have lifted, and I will be my cheerful again, even knowing that my Mom has a very large tumor in her bladder, and that we await results from Monday's pathology report.
Monday, after that report, I expect to go through this same cycle of emotions all over again. I did it so many times with my dad's illness, and it seemed to be the same every time. I hope I've learned something about how to do this "better," somehow, by now.