Monday, July 27, 2009

WMFATA: My Mom...

I try not to get too personal on this website. Sure, I offer my opinions and insights into all things TV and general celebrities (and occasionally a movie, book or item of music), but I never use this forum as any kind of daily journal or diary. Therefore, you probably don't know just from reading this site that for the last month I have been living in my childhood apartment, spending time with-- and now taking care of-- my mother, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 Oral Cancer last year.
Mom and Me on my literal birth day, June 23 1984

My mother was diagnosed in late April of 2008 and had the surgery to remove the malignancy the following month. She then started a painful six-week radiation process in which she developed thrush—painful red sores inside her mouth—and at one point became so dehydrated she had to be admitted to the hospital.

In late October of the same year, after a few month window in which we thought things were looking up, the doctor found another tumor in the same spot as the original. This one was bigger and badder than the first and was spreading at such an alarming rate that he did not feel surgery would be a viable option. Instead, she opted for a clinical trial of a new treatment: like a chemo but not quite chemo, they called it. The side effects would be great, but they were all ones that could be lived with. And my mother got all the side effects: from sores on her legs from “weeping” (shedding protein through the skin), to a rash that covered her back, chest, and neck, she was uncomfortable and on dozens of pills a day, but she was alive, and the tumor was starting to shrink.

Unfortunately, the treatment didn’t work for long. After nine cycles, and two more bouts in the hospital for dehydration, the tumor began to grow again, and my mother opted to let it. She knew she would only have a few months left, but she was emotionally and physically exhausted, and her quality of life had diminished completely. Unable to get out of the house since she first started the treatments in January 2009, the woman who loved to get up early and head into the city to go shopping or walk down Fifth Avenue was relegated to shuffling between her bed, the couch, and the bathroom. The pain medication (Oxycontin and Oxycodone at the time) made her so lethargic, she would nod off in the middle of conversations or her favorite television program.
In line for some ride in Epcot, 1988.

My mother entered hospice care in late June 2009, wanting to be on a pain medication regimen that kept her pretty much knocked out but in her own home. For the first few weeks I was with her, she was still shuffling around the house, doing bills, checking emails, eating full meals, and sitting with me and Madison on the couch.

On July 20 2009-- exactly one week ago today-- my mother stopped eating, drinking, and taking any and all of her meds that weren't to help her deal with the pain, though. Only a few days later, she became bedridden and fell into a deep sleep from round-the-clock morphine (since she was under home care, she could not have an IV, so I set an alarm for every two hours to give her the oral dose).

Everyone from my friends to my co-workers to people I haven't seen or talked to in years have been calling and emailing to ask me how my mom is doing. The only ones who have come to see her are my aunt and uncle-- my mother's sister and her husband, though. My mother wanted it this way; others asked to come over, and my mother didn't want them to-- even before, when she was still ambulatory and alert enough to carry on a conversation. She doesn't want to be remembered this way-- as this shell of the woman she once was.

At my graduation from USC, May 2005.

I will remember my mother as the woman who took me to Disney World every summer because that’s where I said I wanted to go. I will remember my mother as the woman who woke me up at five in the morning to come into work with her and who gave me my own desk there, with a key card and a typewriter of my own, and then took extra long lunch breaks so we could go shopping or to the Avon store. I will remember how she sat with my and rubbed my back when I couldn’t fall asleep as a kid. I will remember the games we used to play and the books she got me. I will remember my mother as the woman who took me out to California to meet my favorite actors time and time again, who dropped me off college, who sacrificed so much so I could pursue my dreams instead of get a quote-unquote real job.

At our traditional Universal City Hilton Christmas buffet, December 2005.

I try not to get too political or preachy on this website. Sure, I've posted pro-Democratic videos in the past, and I'm sure I will again in the future. But I do not use this forum as a place to recruit, nor do I list out all of the propositions and laws I feel are in need of some reform. It's not that I am not active or aware of those issues; this just isn't the place for that. I am not going to post the diatribe I have written in the last few days of how what my mother is going through is no way to die with dignity. However, I am going to say that although she drifts in and out of consciousness now, I know there are moments where she is completely alert and aware in there. And I know it must be killing her even more than the cancer is to know she has to suffer through what she is. I can't imagine what it feels like to literally feel your body shutting down a little bit at a time.

I will force myself to remember everything about this time, though—what the woman who once charged down Manhattan streets like she ran the whole city was reduced to in her final days. I will remember so I will fight legislation that denies human beings the right to be in charge of their own lives. I will remember so that if and when I do finally have children of my own, I can tell them stories about my mother, and hopefully they will be able to say to me: “But mom, when it comes to be your time, you won’t have to go out like that.” I will remember because, really, now that is all I can do.

I may not write here for a little while. I may need to take a break, get re-settled and a bit re-prioritized. I may start a second website to chronicle the lobby work I plan to start doing not only for Oral Cancer Research and Awareness but also the Death With Dignity National Center. I hope that when my Stand-Up Comedy benefit occurs, in honor of my mother though not technically a memorial, you will come out. And I also hope that when I come back to writing this silly fluff blog, you all will, too.


Amanda said...

Hey Danielle,

All of us back here in LA love you so much and are sending all of our love and positive thoughts to you every day.

Anything you need, you know that I'm here.

Jenni said...

Love, love, love, love, love to you and your mom. And may this be a lesson to all of us not to take the time we have with our loved ones for granted because we don't know how long we will have them in our lives.

Kate, Dating in LA said...

Thoughts are with you and your mom.

Jamie said...

Thinking of you and your mom (and Madison!) every minute of every day. I'm just glad that you three are together at this time. That's all we really with the people we love - the time we spend together and the experiences we share. And there's never enough of those things, but it's important that we value them and prioritize them. I love you! And let me know if you need anything, even if it's something as small as recording Entourage on my DVR.

Karen said...

Sending all my thoughts and love. Your mom is one brave woman, as are mother like daughter.

Jaime said...


I know techincally we haven't met, but I feel in the last year and a half that I KNOW you, and I have to say, my heart is just breaking for you. I wish there were something I could do or say to ease what you're going through. Just know that you and your mother are in my thoughts and that I am so, so very sorry.

Let me know about the organizations you're getting involved with, and the Stand Up as well. If I can come out for it - to NY or LA - I will.

So much love to you.

Johanna said...

Sending love, thoughts and prayers to you and your family. What a moving post; it just made me cry in my cubicle at work, thinking of your mother and you, and then all the things my mother has done for me. Know that you are loved.