When the phone rang on Wednesday morning, the black screen lighting up with my mother’s name and number, I had convinced myself that the biopsy had confirmed breast cancer. I was so sure that I had already mentally imagined an emotionally tortuous future where I nursed her through her last days, weakened from chemo and failed surgery, confessing how much she loved me as she slipped from life.
I know, it was a morbid fantasy, the kind that the mind spins when faced with such a shock. And my fantasy revealed that deep down I still hungered for some sort of meaningful, compassionate, and emotionally authentic relationship with my mother even though I had long since resigned myself to the status quo.
But when I answered the phone with a sharp intake of breath only to hear her say, “It’s not cancer!”, I was surprised and confused by my mixed emotions.
Yes, I was relieved. I congratulated her on the good news. I said something like, “You have a new lease on life.” I mean, isn’t that what a cancer scare is supposed to do? Make you reflect on your mortality and vow to celebrate life?
There was a clear pause. “Oh, I wasn’t going anywhere,” she dismissively replied. “You fight this sort of thing.”
It’s hard to convey this disconnect I heard in her voice and the sense of anger I immediately felt that at this moment in time, this event wasn’t more meaningful. I almost wanted the results to be positive so that she would start taking better care of herself, as fucked up as that sounds.
Life. It’s complicated. Complicated emotions. Never black and white. I feel like I was just in a hit and run where no one was hurt and there wasn’t even a scratch on the cars. And I was a little bit mad at her — mad at her for not having cancer! Daughter of the year award! But then, of course, I was relieved and it was as though someone flipped the channel back and said, “Now back to our regularly scheduled programming!”
So what’s the takeaway? What’s my epiphany if my mom isn’t having one herself? I think the big lesson that it shouldn’t take a cancer scare to try and have the meaningful, compassionate, and emotionally authentic relationship I’ve secretly been wanting all along.