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lunes, 19 de julio de 2010

We Shall Take Wings as Eagles


My daughter is 14 going on 15. I am 49 going on 50. She was only 11 years old when I was diagnosed with brain cancer. When I was told that I was going to die within one year unless I had surgery and follow-up treatment, perhaps chemotherapy and/or radiation, I immediately asked how many more years I would survive if I follow the whole treatment. “You have between 5 and 7 years of survival,” but some people live longer than that. At age 47, I had lived long enough to see most of my dreams come true, but leaving my sixth grade daughter under the supervision of my 71 year old husband and my 18 year old son was definitely something I never thought about.

If I did not follow the treatment I would skip all together those difficult adolescent years in which all daughters hate everything about their mothers. Not too bad, I thought. But, then, I would have deprived my daughter from the pain of figuring out her own self image while trying to escape from her dreadful mother. Dying while still being the adorable mom of a little girl was probably easier. She would have remembered all those birthday parties we shared together, her soccer and basketball games, reading, dancing and swimming together. She would probably remember how fascinated she was with the images of Virgin Mary at Museo del Prado in Madrid, or her disappointment when she did not find any Virgin Mary at Musée Pompidou in Paris. We both enjoyed Museo Miró in Barcelona, and Museo Dalí in Figueres. Would she remember that she needed my hug when she got scared while listening the story of the Nazi attack in Museo Guernica, or while entering to the attic where Ana Frank wrote her diary in Amsterdam? Was she going to remember our life together before being shattered by cancer?

Sometimes I was so weak, that I did not know if I was going to make it. After my first surgery, I needed therapy to be able to walk again. Once I was able to walk, I was informed that I could not drive because the pills I needed to take to avoid seizures could actually provoke a seizure. Soon after my second surgery at MD Anderson, when I was still in chemotherapy and trying to recover my ability to remember words, my daughter asked me: “Mother, when are you going to get better? Do you see, if I need to depend on daddy and Danilo, my social life is over.” I had to tell her the truth that I did not know when or if I was going to get better, but I was going to do my best so that she could go back to having a normal life. She was still mom’s little girl, but I needed to trust the mothers of her classmates so that she would not miss a basketball game, a musical or birthday parties. I needed to delegate on other women so that my husband could help me at home during my recovery process.

My husband, my son, my aunt Tati, and so many people helped so that I could go back to “normal.” But sometimes I felt so weak and sick that I wondered how much easier it would had been if I just gave up and forgot about those 5 to 7 years of survival. I prayed, and asked for an answer, because I needed to know if it was worth the trouble of surviving. I soon found an answer: “But they that hope in the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall take wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:31).” While in doubt, I chose to hope and have faith that my strength would be renewed, that I would take wings as an eagle, that I would run and not be weary, that I would walk and not faint.

It might sound childish, but I decided that I should have some input in this whole renewal process. So, I choose a happy picture of myself when I was at my best, hanged it right in front of my bed, and decided that if God wanted to renew my life, he should rather make me look closer to when I was 26 years old. Without even knowing it, I had spent the last 10 years of my life suffering terrible headaches. So, I wanted to go back to the strength I had 21 years before, when I felt a lot better. To be frank, I would spend a week in bed while I was in chemotherapy, followed by three good weeks in which I would walk to the next door gym so that I could regain some energy. For a whole year, I did nothing else than recovering my health, my memory and just trying to get better.

Every morning, I looked at that picture in the hope that I would sometime “walk and not faint”. On my way to the dinning room, before having breakfast, and after looking at my old picture of those happy days gone, I would say “thank you Lord, for another beautiful day, and all those wonderful days still to come.”

I have survived cancer for two years and a half. My daughter is now 14. Yesterday, she had one of those difficult adolescent tantrums. She was crying because her school uniform is a little tight and she would not look good unless she looses at least 5 pounds. She then looked at me and asked for help. I told her that all what she needed to do was eating healthy food every three hours, exercise every day, and hang a picture on her wall so that she could see every morning how she wanted to look like. “I don’t know, Carla, how do you want to look like, perhaps like Lady Gaga, Penélope Cruz, or Jennifer López? It doesn’t matter, the important thing is to focus on a goal and stick to it.”

Then, I told her: “don’t forget to thank God for being so funny, smart, beautiful, for the wonderful life you have lived so far, and for the great days to come.” “It works,” I told her. “Do you see that picture on my wall? If I can feel so well after two brain surgeries, a year of chemotherapy and a strict diet to get out of diabetes 2, you can easily fit into that skirt within two or three weeks.” She stopped crying and went up stairs to her bedroom. After several hours, she came back to show me her chosen picture. This time around, I was the one crying. I saw my own picture hanging on her wall. Perhaps my cancer made her grow-up faster. She is supposed to hate me now and love me later on. We need more than five more years to survive adolescence. I still hope for the best: we “shall take wings as eagles.”