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Prisms of Hope

Farewell, Cleveland


Mother was finally admitted to the Oncology Unit around 4:30 early Wednesday morning. Up to this point our initial impressions of Memorial Hospital had been positive, but nothing prepared us for the exceptional quality of care that Mother would receive from the oncology nursing staff during her week there.

I called one of my closest friends who is also Mother's attorney, with questions aplenty: What should be the communication with her employer (as we didn't have any prognosis)? What about her health insurance, her bills? How do I deal with my employer in Cleveland? Answers came with rationality, logic and calmness -- a welcome respite in the sea of chaos.

I was slowly coming to conclusions about my own future. I had postponed my return to Cleveland until after Mother's first oncology appointment. After we received the initial cancer diagnosis, my plan was to return to Cleveland and then come home every four to six weeks. Now, all bets were off.

When I left Colorado Springs in 1993, my goal was to climb the symphony ladder, and climb I did. I ended up in Cleveland in 1998 working for the "best band in the land," The Cleveland Orchestra. It was an amazing, wild, hard ride. I loved every moment. There is much to be said for working for an organization that truly is the best at what it does. But it comes with a price; that price for me was burnout. I left "The Band" in June to run my own gig, "Red," a funky, small chamber orchestra in Cleveland.

I called my board president that same morning. I told her what had happened and explained my quandary. "I can tender my resignation, or take a leave of absence and telecommute from here during the interim," I told her. "You need to think of your career," she said. "You've worked so hard. Red is doing so well; we need you here."

Yes, but Mother needs me here and that is where the line is drawn, I thought. "Don't resign," the board president said. "We'll do a leave of absence, and telecommuting is a good solution." I hung up the phone relieved, a ray of sunshine in an otherwise bleak week.

Five days later, the board president called me at home. "We had a meeting and feel it best if we hired someone else -- we need someone in the office regularly, but we'll need help with the transition. You'll receive a letter with terms by the end of the week." Indeed, there were no terms, only a polite "Dear John" letter that I eventually received the middle of January.

Mother's first appointment with her oncologist came on Thursday. A fiery, dedicated woman doctor came to Mother's bedside. "We can treat you, but we cannot cure you," she said. She wasted no time, recommending immediate radiation to the brain followed by chemotherapy at her clinic when Mother was released from the hospital.

The fear, dread and worry were measurable. Of course my sister, brother and I asked the doctor the inevitable question: How much time, what are we looking at? Her response was pragmatic and honest. "It could be days, months, years -- no one knows, but my job is to make her as comfortable and her quality as good as possible. I'm here to help her fight."

Aunt Cynthia and Uncle Ned came up from Amarillo the following week. It was the wisdom of my uncle that made me realize the truth of it all -- live each day without any expectation for tomorrow, be grateful for this time, and quit worrying about what may happen tomorrow, next week or next month. No doctor or care professional knows how much time any of us has; only the Divine knows that prognosis.

So with all of this at play, Mother and I began to set our daily routine. She was released a week after her initial admission and within a span of 10 days completed her initial round of radiation and commenced chemotherapy. Mother's hair came out almost immediately following her final radiation treatment and she was extremely tired. She kept her humor and we joked about her buzz haircut.

Life settled into a comfortable routine. Coffee around 7, breakfast around 9, errands or doctor's appointments in the morning, lunch, mid-afternoon nap, grandchildren late afternoon/evening. She pursued holistic, alternative therapies with Reiki and energy work. Things were quiet.

In the scheme of things, Red and my career seemed small and insignificant. Funny how one's perspective changes when you're addressed with the one issue that truly does matter: the life and death of a loved one, finding hope in each day, grateful for that individual and fighting like hell.

-- Subtitled "One family's journey to living," Prisms of Hope is Carolyn Carroll's diary of adult caregiving for an aging, sick parent. This is the fourth of a five-part series. Domestic Bliss will return when the series concludes.

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