Early one morning just days before my surgery, my ever-so-healthy mum, who lives in London, called to tell me she had been admitted to hospital. I tried to focus on what she was saying while I struggled to comprehend the image of my active, yoga-fit mum in a hospital bed. I knew she hadn’t been feeling well. She had wanted come over to LA to be with me for my lumpectomy but a stomach bug kept her from being able to. She said she had some respiratory issues and the doctors were just monitoring her. My head spun. Mum made it sound like nothing to worry about, but I felt sheer terror. When I hung up, Lauren asked if everything was ok. I grunted a negative response without actually answering no. I was already on the computer furiously researching my mum’s symptoms. My head was practically inside my screen as I scanned medical publications, selected what looked like legitimate message boards and tapped into Google every variable of every tiny thing my mum had said that might be a clue. After that I called mum back and asked her which tests they had run on her she gave me her answers, and I returned to Google. All this time Lauren hovered nearby unsure of what to do with a manically googling girlfriend. Eventually, I stopped typing and reading and looked up at her. My body was shaking as I declared, “my mum has ovarian cancer.” Lauren comes from a family of doctors and nurses so she places great trust in the medical profession, so when she calmly asked, “Is that what the doctors said?” I interpreted her words as her telling me I was crazy, cancer crazy. My stomach churned uncontrollably, my voice rose, and I heatedly explained that although the doctors hadn’t said so, I knew. Inside I had doubts. There was still a logical part of my brain that said it was impossible for me to know based on such little information. Lauren reached to place her hand on my knee. I pulled away and spat out, “don’t you dare tell me it’s ok, that it’s going to fine. Don’t you dare say that it’s is unlikely to be the worst case scenario.” Of course, I wanted her to tell me exactly that; but I wanted her to magically possess some absolute knowledge about my quietly strong, fiercely independent and loving mum. I wanted her to definitively know mum just needed some antibiotics and these would make her be fine. I must have had a dangerous glint in my eye because Lauren delicately stepped backwards. My voice got more desperate as I cried,. “Remember when everyone said it would be ok with me? It wasn’t. They were all wrong, remember? But I knew, and I thought I was nuts, everyone made me feel crazy, and this is what that feels like! I know she’s going to a respiratory specialist, and it might be an infection. I know that, but I don’t think that’s right. I don’t think she’s telling me the truth. , I think she has cancer, and I think she knows…” I sank sobbing to the floor of my newly brightened bedroom. “I’m going to have to go home,” I wept. “Mum will need help and so will my sister. Oh my god, oh my god, this can’t be happening to my mum.” Lauren knelt down abeside me and patiently waited until I was ready for a hug. Gently she tried to remind me that we didn’t have any information and perhaps it was best not to leap to conclusions. I let her hug me. I leaned into her and asked, “Is this because I have cancer? Is it because I have been living it and surrounded by it for months? Is that why I feel like this, is that why I think my mum has it? Am I crazy. Am I cancer-crazy?” Silently I wished she would tell me I was certifiable, but she knows me too well. She knows that I would just start the cycle all over again, that once more I would recite all the reasons that it looked like mum has cancer, and how no one in the world can tell me everything is going to be ok. Over the following days, I talked to Mum several times. She told me she was feeling better, and my cousin, who is a doctor, sent me a note saying that Mum was probably a bit run down and might have had an infection. I wanted to believe both Mum and my cousin, but I didn’t. Every day when I hung up the phone I’d swing back and forth between mentally moving home and then stopping myself from making such plans, calling myself delusional for even thinking such thoughts. I relived waiting for the results of my own cancer. The feelings of terror, confusion and isolation were on a loop. I thought I might have cancer PTSD Two painfully slow weeks passed. Mum still had no results. I could no longer contain my fear and frustration, so I composed myself and decided we had to talk about it. “Mum,” I said gently, “You need more tests, you need results. I am very worried about the delay. I hope it’s not serious, but just in case it is, every moment matters. Mum,If, God forbid, it’s ovarian cancer, they need to act fast.” I heard a small inhale intake of breath on the other end of the line. I didn’t want to worry her, but I knew she needed more tests and I wanted her to demand them. “Tatum,” my mum said in her softest voice. When I heard that, I sat down. My heart knew what she was going to say but my head screamed, “Nooooooooo.” She told me “they changed the specialist. I’m going to see an oncologist. It’s cancer.” For the second time, cancer broke my heart. This time it shattered. And in that instant everything changed.
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