by Christina Michael
It all began 6 years ago. I was juggling my full time job as a lawyer with raising my first son, Nicholas, in San Francisco. You can imagine how excited I was to have my dear mom (Nicholas’s “Yiayia”) come and visit. I knew that, for at least a few days, she would relieve my guilt of having to drop my toddler at daycare and would have my house spotless with dinner (Greek chicken with roasted potatoes was her specialty) ready for my family when we got home from work.
As I expected, her visit was wonderful for a few days except that Mom was feeling so cold all of the time. Trying to comfort her (and myself), I said: “Oh, Mom, San Francisco is always so cold and our apartment is not well-insulated like your house in Chicago. Don’t worry, Mom, I am sure that’s all it is”. “Ok, honey,” she said. And, when Mom said that her neck was swollen (“Can’t you see, Christina?”), I brushed it off as her just fighting off a flu bug. I wondered what was truly happening…. Mom had no energy, was freezing cold during the day, and was sweating profusely each night (we women can sure blame anything on hormones or lack thereof, can’t we?).
Two weeks later, sitting at my desk at work, the phone rings. My eldest sister, Alex, was on the phone. “Mom’s doctor took a biopsy of the lymph node on her neck, and he’s sending it to the Mayo Clinic for testing. He says it could be lymphoma, but it might just be ‘cat scratch fever.”’ Oh, I am sure that’s what it is, I thought. No big deal, right? Back to my countless cases and heavy workload, needing to rush and pick up Nicholas.
Then, the dreaded phone call a few days later, at my desk again (of course). It was my sister again. “Mom has lymphoma. It’s Stage 4 out of 4. It’s in her organs, too." WHAT? No, please, no. She’s so healthy…. She just went on a big bike trip in Morocco…. She never smoked, never drank, and was never overweight. How could this have happened to the nicest, most loving, healthiest sixty-two year old person I had ever known? I could not, would not, and did not believe this.
After countless phone calls to my sisters and my parents, after my employer wouldn’t let me go “part time” (80%), in tears (yes I cried to my male boss), I resigned. I needed to take care of my sick mom and be in Chicago as much as possible. We’d just go into (more) debt, if necessary, to let me be with my mom for as many moments as possible.
For the next year, I traveled from San Francisco to Chicago with my son (and sometimes my husband) every month. I watched Mom deteriorate, literally shrink before my eyes. Twelve rounds of intense chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant almost killed her trying to save her. And then, on July 13, 2002, when my son was 2 1/2 years old and I was six months pregnant with my second son, Mom died. She was gone forever. I crumbled.
Now I’ve been “on sabbatical” for 6 years. Mom has been dead for 5 years (how could it have been that long since I hugged her, heard her voice?). My youngest son is about to start kindergarten. And now my climb onto the “On Ramp” begins.