“I don’t believe in miracles. I depend on them,” reads one of my buttons. The miracle of gratitude is my favorite one of all. Oh, and humor.

A year after she started chemo, I found myself with my Mom at her oncologist’s office. The newest round of quarterly scans were finished and we were there for the report. The report was fine, in that the cancer hadn’t grown since she started her three weeks on, one week off, regimen. Asking him what would likely happen next, he reminded us that he is not God (and he knows it.) He continued to say that likely the cancer in her abdomen would one day metastasize to her lungs or her brain. Not missing a beat she says, “I’ll take lungs.” He smiled and so did I: chuckling as he noted it wouldn’t, finally, be up to her.

“Brain scan.” A couple of months ago, we started noticing some changes in Mom’s balance and vision. Time to talk to Dr. Cohen about it, we said. We, her hope-filled children, thought, maybe she just needs new glasses, but Dr. Cohen is not messing around when it comes to neurological issues. So brain scan it is.

Early on, I went with Mom to one of her Wednesday appointments. After the blood work was drawn, we sat in the comfortable waiting room. We were discussing her recent dramatic increase in fatigue. “It’s three things,” she quoted Dr. Cohen’s explanation, “the chemo, the steroids…. Ummm, what’s the third thing? I can’t remember.”

“Let’s see… what could it be? Hmmm…. could it be the Cancer?” I asked drawing it out like the Church Lady of Saturday Night Life fame.

Don’t think that joke hasn’t come back again and again: she forgot that she has cancer even as we we’re sitting in the oncologist’s waiting room. Awaiting the harsh chemical treatment that robs her energy but provides time. “Drug induced aphasia” we tease as she continues to once in a while forget things.

When she was diagnosed about two years ago, they said it was pancreatic cancer. Talk about devastation. Not much medically minded, even I knew that pancreatic cancer is commonly heard as a rapid death sentence. My sister and I stood in the hospital corridor and for the first time I can ever remember cried together, helplessly looking into each other’s eyes.

A day later, same sister, Jeanne, comes dashing into Mom’s hospital room where my brother and I are keeping vigil with our drugged and sleepy mother. In a rush she told us she’d run into Mom’s surgeon in the cafeteria. Lunch tray in hand, he’d blurted out to her that they’d been wrong. Not pancreatic cancer, after all. But breast cancer that had metastasized to her abdomen.

Woo Hoo!, we shouted. The happiness, the miracle – like she’d been given a “life sentence” to counteract that deadly one of a day before. We hugged one another and were so grateful, knowing as we rejoiced: how ironic. “Yay! Mom has breast cancer!”

I always thought that the roller coaster metaphor for life was a corny one – feelings aren’t like a roller coaster – except that they are. For the last two years, we’d coast along, the chemo for three months when scans to see if the cancer cells had grown or spread. Then whoosh, the fast exhilarating descent hands out over our heads in joy that it hadn’t. Then three months more chugging up the hill toward the next round of scans. A few sharp sudden turns in the midst – the blood clot that meant no more long distance travel. The change in the cocktail of pumped in poisons. The family side trips towards despair then the whipping back or the gradual gaining of the momentum of encouragement.

So, “brain scan.” What’s that going to do to the whole ride? My niece, living in Mexico City at the time of diagnosis, says she went to her local parish and prayed to St. Jude. And the next day, Mom, her grandmother, got the breast cancer reprieve. Did St. Jude intercede? We all felt the miracle of the change in diagnosis. And the rush of gratitude that follows awareness of God’s gentle work in our lives or the world.

The too many to count miracles: two years of them. Some honest conversations six children and one adult grandchild have had with each other and our Mom. A family website that connects us from all the points of the world we’ve scattered.. Visits from an estranged child. Reconciliation, peace and moments of great fun and laughter in Mom’s presence. The calm of a morning after a night of despair. And the humor.

Brain scan? So what. From one day to the next a life sentence can be converted. Can be extended to a real life. Time to live it and know it and best of all to make fun of it. And time to be grateful. And time to laugh about it.

This time the brain scan came back negative and the best response comes from Mom’s favorite nurse at the chemo center, “So, um, congratulations. Your brain scan came back negative,” she teased, “you don’t have a brain.”

There’s a bumper sticker that reads, “Expect a mackerel.” And I do.

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