Thursday, July 24, 2008

Lunch with a friend

My mom called last week and said, "Hey, I want to come take you to lunch. How about Thursday?" This doesn't happen often. It's a long drive for a meal.

In fact, the last time I remember my mom driving the two and half hours to come have lunch with me was when we thought she had ovarian cancer. And by we, I mean my mom, my dad, and me. She didn't tell anyone else that she might have ovarian cancer.

I called one of the Ob/Gyns I used to work with and told him her story, gave him all her symptoms, and laid out her doctor's plan. He confirmed what my mom and I suspected: It sounded like it could be ovarian cancer, but her doctor's plan was shit. As my Grandma Betty used to say, "Honey, they don't all graduate at the top of their class."

The new plan was that she would start by coming here and having an MRI. I was working at an MRI center at the time and the radiologist agreed to go over her scans with her and tell her everything, good or bad, as soon as the films were ready. She was more than willing to drive two and half hours for that.

She came one Tuesday morning at 10 and spent 45 minutes in the scanner. I pretended to get some work done.

When she was done, the tech said, "Give us two hours." It would take about two hours to get the films uploaded and for the radiologist to read them. So, my mom and I headed out for a two hour lunch. People had a few recommendations, mostly Greek and Lebanese food, but none of it sounded like food we could eat. Any other day, it would have been great. My mom loves gyros. But, that day, neither of us was in the mood for anything tasty.

We ended up at a bagel shop. The bagels were bad, the chairs were uncomfortable, the table had little bits of sesame seed stuck to it with dried cream cheese, and the whole place was freezing. And that is exactly what we talked about for two hours. We weren't bitching, just making little observations in between bites.

"This table isn't really clean, is it?"

Looking at the table, "No, I it's guess not."

Looking around, "But, I think it's the cleanest one here."

"Yeah, I think you're right."

And then we'd look at my mom's watch. Again. It was clear she didn't want to talk about what we were worried about, and neither of us could pretend to care about anything else. About an hour and ten minutes in to lunch, we decided to head back to the MRI center. We were both freezing in the bagel shop, there was no where in between to take a leisurely walk, and we were hoping her films would be read a little early.

They were. And they said she probably didn't have ovarian cancer. There was no dramatic show as the radiologist read the films for us, no tears of joy. My mom and I don't really do that sort of thing in front of people. A person looking in would have thought he was reading us an unimpressive x-ray of her left toe.

As we walked out of the reading room, I said, "So, you want to go to lunch?"

She laughed and said, "I was thinking the same thing."

I had to get back to work and she had to get home, though. We decided we would skip it.

That day in that lousy bagel shop, that was the first time my mom and I ever had lunch together as friends.

I can't say that we've been best friends ever since. Honestly, I'm not sure either of us wants that. But, occasionally, I see that we slip into that again. Without realizing it, we sort of float from our mother-daughter relationship into friendship. It happens more and more often the older we both get.

Last week, my mom called to see if she could take me to lunch. No impending medical doom this time, just two women having lunch.

Everything about the afternoon was perfect. As we walked into the restaurant, she said, "You look cute today." I love it when she tells me that. She only says it when she really means it. Looking back, I realize I don't even remember what she was wearing. I often do this, look back on our time together and realize that there are ways that I could have been a better friend to her, little things I miss because I'm not quite used to this.

We sat outside an Italian restaurant, at a little table that was only partly shaded by it's umbrella. It was hot, but we drank tons of iced tea and enjoyed the sun. We laughed about how small the salads were that we had both ordered. We filled up on bread with olive oil. We talked about everything and nothing. The afternoon flew. Soared.

When someone later asked what I'd done that day, I said, "I had lunch with a friend. Uh...I mean, my mom."

This week, sort of out of the blue, I called my grandparents and asked if I could come have lunch with them. It's a lot, all this driving for a single meal. I felt like I needed to see them, though.

A few months ago, my grandpa was told he was dying. He was okay with dying. He didn't want anything that was going to prolong his life by a couple months but make him miserable in the meantime. Two weeks ago, when the doctors figured out exactly what he was dying of, they convinced him that he could be cured. They told him that with treatment he would live another five years. At least. So, my grandparents decided they probably had to try the treament.

Last week they found out that it was all much worse, much more widespread than they originally believed. But, the doctors' recommendations didn't change. Not even a bit. They didn't explain to my grandparents that in light of this new information, these additional masses, he was not going to live another five years. It was all very stay the course.

When my mom and I heard the results of the CT and PET scans, we both said the same thing, "Shit. They are going to kill him in this completely pointless attempt to give him more time." My grandparents seemed like they wanted to give treatment a try, though. We decided we would sort of take it all one step at a time and follow their lead.

Five minutes after I got off the phone with my grandma, my mom called. "Hey, do you mind if I join you guys for lunch tomorrow?"

"No," I said, "In fact, I was going to call you to let you know I'd be in town."

She called back a few hours later. "Listen," she said, "I just got off the phone with Grandma. Suddenly, they aren't really comfortable with the plan for Grandpa. Just so you know, this is probably going to come up tomorrow."

"What do you want me to say, Mom?"

"You can tell them exactly what you think about all this. They want to know."

And, they did. So, we did. We sat at my grandparents kitchen table and we talked about what all of this really meant. My mom would talk a little bit. And then I would talk a little bit. We tried to give them the information in small chunks. Mom got up in the middle and picked up the phone to call the doctors. My grandparents wanted her to discuss everything we had talked about with them.

As she got on the phone, I sat across from my grandpa and said, "I want you to make sure you understand what I'm saying here. If you do treatment, you're going to feel pretty crappy pretty quickly. But, this is a bad cancer. It's not like if you don't do treatment you're going to feel good and then just not be here one day. Eventually, you're probably going to feel bad. I just don't want to paint this picture that if you don't do treatment, you're going to feel like you do today until the end." He understood.

After he digested the first bit, I said, "Grandpa, I also want you to know, when I say that without treatment, you may not live long, we're not talking about only living a year. We're talking about living a few months."

As I was telling him this, I was looking at my mom out of the corner of my eye. She was standing next to the fridge, the phone to her ear, on hold with the doctor's office. She wasn't talking, but it was as if we were saying these words together. It was as though we had each taken the end of a piece of heavy furniture and, together, had heaved it off the floor.

When it was all said, I think that Grandpa was a bit relieved. He finally knew what he needed to to make his decisions. Mom talked to the doctors. She laid it all out for them, saying, "I suspect that what you are thinking is that this is what he has, right? And, when you talk about a treatment success here, you're not talking about five years, are you? You're talking about two months, right?"

The doctors confirmed all that she had said. They admitted that all of this was a huge long shot, that treatment would probably kill him. My grandparents had my mom call and cancel the biopsy scheduled for the next morning.

And then, we all laughed for an hour, mostly about funeral plans. "I don't want to hear it, Dick," Grandma said. "I don't care what you want. You know what I've always said, the funeral is for me, not you. I'm the one left. I'll do what I want with it." It's true, that is what she's always said. She has organized her church's funeral dinners for years and has always said that she doesn't know why dying people tell their families what to do or say at the funeral. It's not like they're around to enjoy it.

The woman has a point. But, whenever she makes it, my mom and I can't help but laugh.

When it was time to go, the four of us all slipped on our shoes and headed out the side door. No one ever pulls away from my grandparents' house without the two of them standing in the driveway to wave. There could be three feet of snow, they'd come out to wave. As we walked out, my mom grabbed my travel mug. "Here, I'll, uh...carry this to your car," she said. I handed her the mug, knowing it was an excuse to walk down the street to where I'd parked so that we could check on each other. As I opened my door, she whispered, "You okay?"

"Yeah," I said. "I'm okay. What about you?"

"I'm alright," she said.

And we were. At the end of the day, all four of us were okay.

My mom and I have sarcastically joked since that we should do that more often, meet for lunch to tell loved ones they're dying. "Oh yeah," one of us will say, "that was great. Especially the part where we both really wanted a drink but there wasn't any alcohol in the whole damn house. That part was my favorite."

Those are the kinds of things that you can laugh about. With a friend.


.j.william. said...


other than that, I'm speechless.

graci said...

You...are amazing.

It's as simple as that.

Shan said...

Dude! Well, you're going to have a glorious second career writing after this Doctor business gets old. You'll be the human interest version of Robin Cook or whatever that physician turned author's name is. I prefer the human angle to mysteries and suspense. You've got a real flair for catching emotion. Between you and Maria a girl can feel pretty shallow. ;)

Terroni said...

jw, thank you.

graci, if you like me, you should meet my bff...

shan, anytime maria and i are mentioned in the same breath... i can think of no greater complement. thank you.

MmeBenaut said...

Amazing is definitely the word for this Terroni. What an incredible person you are and you've made a new friend who sounds incredible too. Your Grandparents must be so proud of you little one. I know that I am.

Anonymous said...

I have such a hard time watching treatment forced on elderly patients without a thought to their wishes. Just because we can treat things and do things, doesn't mean that we should. Dying is a normal part of life but medicine has come to view it as a failure instead of the normal outcome of life.

I'm glad you're grandpa isn't going to let them mess around with him. There's a lot to be said for dying with dignity.

It's good that he has you and your mom as advocates for him.

Terroni said...

Wow. I actually just read this post for the first time. I don't think I realized how long it was. Or, how full of typos--whole verbs missing.

Thank you all for slogging through it.

Anonymous said...

It's a great post. ANd you and your Mom ar going to need that friendship in the tiem ahead for your grandparents. I'm sorry, but glad you have each other.

Amanda said...

wow. I have tears streaming down my face. that seemed like a really intense and intimate moment and we felt every bit of it.

Maria said...

What a wonderful, brave story. And I loved the humor in it. I think that when people hear that someone has a terminal illness, they feel as if they have to be all solemn and supportive. I think most people just want to be told the truth and then treated exactly as they always have been.

And you didn't go too far in the other direction either, none of this NOT talking about it or pretending that everything is fine.

We all need to just know the path and know that we aren't alone.

Great post.

Pixielyn said...

You leave me breathless with the amount of love you just showed your Grandpa, your Grandma and to have that treasured moment with your mother is going to steady you through many painful hours of life lessons ahead.

I am priviledged to read your blog, you are an amazing human and you write about it all so humbly.