Geraldine Lee Williams was her name, and she was the strongest woman I ever knew. Yes, she's no longer with us. She lost her battle with cancer and left me, my younger sister, younger brother and step dad behind in this life that is full of uncertainty. Now that I'm older (I was 16 when she died) I am glad that she doesn't have to live in this uncertain world. She told me right before she died to not cry for her, but for myself. If only she knew that I was crying for myself. I was crying because I would miss her of course, but I was also never going to have my mother to share life's most important mile stones with. She wouldn't see me graduate from high school, get married or be there with me as I give birth. There were so many questions left unanswered and we just ran out of time.
She was first diagnosed with breast cancer when I was in grade school. I remember she sat me down after school one day and said that she had found a lump in her breast and the doctors had confirmed that it was cancer. I knew that her mother, my grandmother had died from breast cancer, so I was really scared. She said that women beat breast cancer every day and explained that she had caught it early so she had a good chance to beat it. I didn't know what was in store for our family, but I knew that it wasn't going to be a walk in the park. My sister was 4 years younger than me, so she wanted to tell me first so I could help break the news to her. I think Gina was too young to understand everything, but she was perceptive enough to know that this was not good and that mom was scared too.
My mom and dad had divorced prior to this happening, so my sister and I felt really vulnerable. I found out later that my mom was scared to tell us, because we had finally settled in at Randy's house (my mom's boy friend at the time) and she was terrified to scare us. She never kept anything from us, and knew that if she kept this from us it would cause more harm than good.
I remember seeing her get sick after going through rounds of chemo. I remember her hair falling out and her letting my sister shave her head so she could get some wigs. I remember being responsible for cleaning and cooking even though I was in grade school. I went through emotions of resentment and anger, but I was glad that I could be mom's helper. I think that's why I am so nurturing now, and why I am desperate to finally be a mother myself.
My mom finally got done with chemo and was in remission. Her and Randy got married the summer before I entered middle school. Mom wanted us to be in the wedding and we were proud to get to share her day with her. Life was great! They bought a houseboat and fixed it up and ended up taking their honeymoon on Lake Cour'de Lane. Gina and I had many birthdays out on that houseboat! We had many fun summers!
Then things changed. Mom wanted to give Randy a child. He had never had kids or been married before, so it was important for her to give him what he had never had. The problem was, the doctors had told her that having a baby might cause the cancer to come back. My mom went ahead with her plans despite what the doctors told her. She was very determined to beat the odds! The first pregnancy didn't go as planned and she miscarried after 2 months. Then she got pregnant with my brother RJ. This pregnancy didn't go as planned either, but she carried him almost to term. A month before he was due, they induced labor because my mom's back spasms were unbarable and the doctors were concerned about what they might find. Their concerns were valid. The cancer had come back, but this time it was in her bonemarrow.
Now comes treatment. At the time, I didn't know what her odds were to beat the cancer, but I should have known they were low because we never discussed it like we did with the breast cancer. She didn't want to worry me. I had just started high school, so she wanted things to be as normal as possible for me. The doctors told her that she had a 30% chance to beat it if she went at it agressively. She decided to do the most agressive thing she could, and that was to have a bone marrow transplant. This would require her to move to Seattle for months at a time to undergo treatment. It was experimental because they weren't using someone else's bone marrow, they were treating hers and putting it back. She ended up having a double bone marrow transplant which took a total of a year and a half. The excruciating pain that she must have gone through makes me want to cry just thinking about it.
After her treatment, she came home. She looked pretty good for someone who had gone through all she went through. She had lost her hair again and was pretty thin, but she was in good spirits and happy to be home to spend Christmas with her family. RJ was 2 that Christmas, and we all thought that things would go back to normal and she would go into remission again. Unfortunately, that is not what happened.
After Easter, she discovered she had developed shingles, which is very painful chicken pox that people can sometimes get after their immune system is lowered. She went in to get checked and get some medication for the shingles and found out that the cancer had actually come back and had spread to her liver. The doctors told her she had a month to live. I don't remember much after that. I remember her calling me into her room and having me sit down on the edge of the bed to tell me that she was going to die in a month. I remember hugging her gently and crying with her as it all sunk in. She wouldn't be alive in a month. She wouldn't be there for my graduation, marriage, or anything. I was very despondent and I remember crying a lot! I remember going to Reno for a last family vacation where my mom insisted that we have our own room and order room service to get the real hotel experience. She loved to spoil us and make sure we had the total experience.
Things became very real when we got back home from our last family vacation ever. She started going through her clothes, jewelry and possessions. She asked us if we wanted anything of hers that we would remember her by or that we had given her. We helped her go through her clothes and things to pack up and give to loved ones and we would take things that we wanted; gifts that we had given her, jewelry that we had admired. It was very emotional for us, and it may seem morbid to outsiders, but it was her style. She didn't want to be a burden.
When it became evident that she was getting weaker, hospice brought in a hospital bed. She refused to die in a hospital. She wanted to be able to see her garden that she had worked so hard on. She wanted to see RJ playing in the back yard. She wanted to see the flowers bloom. She loved Spring!
I remember being so angry all the time. I was a teenager so that wasn't an emotion I was unfamilar with. I couldn't help thinking that it was such a shame that RJ would never know her. He would go through life without any memory of her. That made me angrier than anything else.
Mom passed away on May 21, 1997 in the early morning. Exaclty 1 month from the day that she told us she was dying and exactly 1 week after Mother's Day. I remember waking up that morning feeling so empty and alone. I went in to see her before they took her away and she had a small smile on her face. She was finally at peace. I was thankful for that. Her pain was gone and she was in the arms of Jesus.