In May of 2019, I learned my mother had died while sitting at the bar inside Cover 3. Her landlord had reached out to me earlier in the day since she hadn’t returned his texts or calls for the past 12 days. The texts I then sent to her went unanswered and my phone calls went straight to voice mail. I knew she was gone.
My mother and I had a shallow and tumultuous relationship; she lived in her own world and never got to know me—something she would resent me for and lament to my dad years later. I can’t say I felt that I knew her very well either. I often dreamed of things getting better between us and some time around late 2015, it finally started to feel like things were turning around. While nothing improved drastically, the little progress that was made gave me hope that things would really be different some day. I had to hope--after all, my dad was 14 years her senior and I knew some day he’d pass away and I’d rely on my mother as the only real family member I had left. In 2018, things seemed to be going well for her. She got a job that she seemed to actually like a few months before her diagnosis, selling perfume at the Dillard’s makeup counter. For once in my life, I could hear genuine excitement in her voice when she called to tell me about it. That was short-lived, however, as a distracted teenager hit her car and forced her into a lot of pain and physical therapy—something that ultimately caused her not to be concerned about the growing pain in her side and abdomen. It really didn’t matter though, given our family history of pancreatic cancer. Her death sentence was signed and sealed long before she would begin to feel any symptoms.
For some amount of time, I really thought I might write a stunning obituary or eulogy, but I was never given the chance. What I will say is my mother loved Elvis and Led Zeppelin and White Snake, Fleetwood Mac, and Andy Williams. She also loved Trump and Reagan, Billy Graham, Hawaii, The Young and the Restless, Daniel Steele novels, reruns of Bonanza, and shopping at TJ Maxx. She hated John Denver, me suggesting I take a photo of her (“I look like a hippo,” she’d say. Because in her world, she and others who were no longer “hot” weren’t worthy of doing certain things. It’s something I still struggle with today.), people who drink alcohol, “the feminization of American men”, the outdoors, self-reflection, veganism, any restaurant I took her to, California, and seemingly almost most everything else not mentioned in the second and third sentences of this paragraph. Hell, the only voicemail I have from her on my phone is her complaining. "I'm not a pessimist, I'm a realist," she'd always tell me. But, although she complained a lot, she was an honest person and someone who didn't choose drugs, alcohol, or men over her kids. She didn't show love and affection the way that I wanted or needed, but I believe in my heart of hearts that she loved me in her own way. For that, I am eternally grateful.
I find myself frustrated when trying to educate the average person about pancreatic cancer, since there are no well-known campaigns or movements to help. “Oh does she, like, smoke a lot? My grandma got lung cancer because she’s a smoker,” said the kid trying to sell me a new car at the Toyota dealership as I waited for my oil to be changed. Unless you’ve been touched by a rare cancer, you likely don’t know much about it. So many people assumed breast cancer or lung cancer when I mentioned her cancer diagnosis. Nope. There is an incredible amount of data that suggests that pancreatic cancer, along with cervical, liver and bile duct, lung, and ovarian, are severely underfunded relative to the number of deaths they cause. I can only imagine that this may be due to the grim prognoses and high mortality rates. When people survive cancer, they become the best advocates for awareness and fundraising. When they don’t…well, you get the picture.
According to the American Cancer Society, 56,770 people were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2019 and 45,750 died from it. To put this in perspective more people died from pancreatic cancer in the U.S. than died of breast cancer, despite having only 20.10% of the total diagnoses of breast cancer. Further, at a dismal 9%, the five-year survival rate for this type of cancer is the lowest of any cancer.
Most days I’m fine. But there are some days I’m sad. Sad because she didn’t deserve that. Sad that I was robbed of the chance to maybe have a close mother-daughter relationship that I see other women have with their mothers. Would it have ultimately happened? Probably not. But it could have gotten better. And like I said, I had to hope. Though we weren't very close and butted heads, she was my mother. My only mother.
All of this is to say I hope you will consider donating to PanCAN. Will there be a cure in my lifetime? No. Cancer is too volatile and manifests itself too differently in each person it affects. There’s no one-size-fits-all treatment, but with the amazing clinical trials for new therapies that are being conducted as I type this, I’m hopeful that fewer people will have to suffer the way so many others have.
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