I can’t say I was looking forward to Thanksgiving this year.
Her coat still hangs by the back door; her bird figurines still dot the house. Her touch is seen everywhere, yet she is not there.
Her makeup brush and her favourite blanket no longer hold her scent.
Mom was never boisterous or obtrusive; more content to quietly observe than monopolize attention, her absence was nevertheless tangibly felt as the family gathered without much cheer for the holiday.
September was Ovarian Cancer Awareness month. It also marked six months since we lost my mother to ovarian cancer.
It feels like an unbearably long time and entirely too short in the same breath.
Now we’re into October and traditionally, thoughts turn towards gratitude, but I realize I haven’t felt very grateful lately.
There is nothing fair about cancer; it strikes the young and old indiscriminately, the active as readily as the infirm and everything in between.
The odds are like playing Russian roulette. Some who logically should make it, don’t, and some with seemingly no hope, somehow survive.
The treatment can be worse than the disease, and those who do make it have to live with the effects.
By all measurable standards, at 36, I am fully grown. I had not, however, outgrown my need for my mother.
I’d like to say losing a parent is like losing half of who you are. But really, it’s more like I am still the ‘me’ she made me, but the ‘me’ I will be is a completely unknown future without her.
My mother was 71. She could have easily lived for another 20, joyful, rewarding years, enjoying watching her grandchildren grow up.
As much as losing her this way hurts, it’s not even a unique story. It’s terribly, brutally common.
According to statistics released by the Public Health Agency of Canada earlier this month, cancer remains the leading cause of death in Canada.
Current numbers show about 25 per cent of Canadians will die from cancer and an estimated two in five Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime (40 per cent!).
Cancer is far from new, either, though public health says case numbers are currently increasing along with the aging population.
The agency says significant progress has been made in treating many cancers, however, how can 25 per cent of the country dying from this disease be an acceptable statistic?
I’m no expert. Experts would assuredly state cancer treatment has improved by leaps and bounds and continues to make gains which I’m sure is 100 per cent true. That progress however, is too slow and imperceptible and is coming far too late, for far too many, cancer patients and their loved ones.
The Government of Canada is providing $50 million annually to the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer to launch a cancer data strategy and has donated $5 billion to cancer research over the last five years.
The Public Health Agency says that funding also supports innovative research, including studies looking at the way immune cells work together to respond to ovarian cancer with the goal of developing more effective treatments. I wish those researchers success.
Time passing doesn’t make the loss hurt less but it does help one gain perspective.
So, I am grateful for clarity.
I’m grateful there was mercy and relief amid the suffering.
I’m grateful treatment gave us one more year with her, though it wasn’t enough.
I’m grateful my children knew her.
I’m grateful she is no longer in pain.
I may feel more grateful when a monumental breakthrough in the treatment of cancers is announced — breakthrough that could put an end to this terrible disease that robs families of their loved ones.
I’d feel grateful even if cancer cases declined enough that hearing someone passed from cancer was more of a surprise; that the response wasn’t just a sympathetic, but all-too-knowing nod.
I’d feel grateful if we could normalize grief; if the timeline expectancy for one to ‘get over it’ wasn’t dictated by when others become uncomfortable with it.
This holiday season, if you or someone you know is living with grief, be gentle and please be patient.
Grief doesn’t have an expiration date and the stages are an unpredictable rollercoaster, not a procession in a straight line.