by Kellie McPhail, 06/24/2020, Bellaire, Mi
The rain was falling that January day as my mother and I were leaving the Smith Family Breast Health Center in Traverse City. She had undergone a biopsy and the initial news was concerning. In a few short days it would be confirmed that she had breast cancer.
Following surgery in February, a regiment of chemo began at Charlevoix Hospital. Due to COVID-19, rules were constantly changing from anybody could go with her, to only one person could go with her, to nobody could go with her. Entrances changed again and again and again until it was streamlined to one tiny door directly into the infusion center. During her treatments, my sister and I used extreme caution with social distancing, masks, hand sanitizer, whatever it took to protect her fragile health.
We had lost our dad to Parkinson’s five years ago, so it was up to my sister and me to care for her. We spent the next several weeks staying in our childhood home, helping her fight this battle. There were meals to cook, laundry to do, errands to run, and intercepting a long line of well-meaning visitors. And although it was difficult watching her lose her hair and feeling weak following chemo, I have come to realize that those months were a special time of bonding for the three of us.
On a snowy day in March we put a turkey breast in the crock pot and watched Royal weddings. For Easter I surprised them with homemade stuffed animals. For my sister’s April birthday, we enjoyed ice cream, watching a Tasha Tudor video, and dreaming of a trip to Vermont to visit her Corgi Cottage once Mom’s cancer and the coronavirus were behind us. We put together puzzles and resurrected our childhood by playing Mystery Date. We spent long hours talking over cups of tea, reading, watching movies and reconnecting.
By mid-June Governor Whitmer opened almost everything in Michigan. My mother wrapped up chemo just before Memorial Day and began radiation this month. She looks forward to getting her strength back and hopefully her life returning to normal. It seems like the virus and her cancer have ran in tandem these past few months. Thankfully, it appears that as the virus weakens, she is getting stronger.
I often reflect over the past 6 months. I think about that rainy day in January and the devastating news that followed, how we remained strong as March melted in April, and are now savoring the fact that summer has blossomed at last. After all this time, after fighting cancer, COVID-19, and everything in between, this is what I know for sure. Regardless of the timing, it has reminded me how fragile life is. It can be Christmas and you think everything is right with the world. Then, in a few short weeks and months your world can turn upside down to the point where you do not hardly recognize it. I do not like to think I took my mom and sister for granted before that January day, but I have been reminded that it is important to cherish who I have and what I have right now.
In so many ways, this journey has been long and dark. And yet, I will always treasure the time spent in my childhood home, enjoying time spent together with my mom and sister. As we move into summer and what lies ahead, I look forward to more time spent with them in happier circumstances. And who knows? Maybe now and then we will get together at Mom’s house, watch movies while supper cooks in the crock pot, dream of places to visit, talk over cups of tea on a winter day. But most importantly, just spending time together, appreciating what we have today.