There. I’ve said them, the words everyone hates to hear: the news that someone you love is fighting a terminal illness. In my MiL’s case, it wasn’t completely terrible news. She has a tumor on her tonsils and one lymph node, and a combo of chemotherapy and radiation has a very high chance of curing the cancer—not putting it in remission, but curing. The odds are around 90-95% according to the oncologist and chemo and radiation specialists.
At first, my MiL, who I’ll call Annie, wasn’t sure she wanted to undergo any treatment at all. She’s seen friends and family walk through Valley of the Shadow of Cancer, suffering terribly from the treatment, only to die of the cancer. She figured she was 78, and she’d rather have a couple of good years with a higher quality of life, than 5+ with constant chemo and being miserable most of the time. Fortunately, she agreed to talk with the oncologist and the other specialists and her them out. When she learned there was a very good chance that they’d get rid of it for good, she decided to go through with the treatment. Today was her first chemo and radiation session.
Things have not always been easy between my MiL and me. She is a devout fundamentalist Christian (she self-identifies as an Episcopalian, but really, she’s more of a cross between a Methodist and a Baptist. We are Wiccan. When we moved in with her in 2005 when my husband lost his job, she banned us from practicing our religion anywhere at any time while we lived under her roof because she regards Wicca as some sort of demon worship. Trying to explain it to her was useless. She is respectful of the beliefs of others in general—she has had Hindu and Buddhist teachers at the Pre-K she owns, and way back in the 70s she stood her ground over discussing Chanukah with her students because she had a Jewish child in the class, despite a couple of parents pitching hissy fits and pulling their kids out—but for some reason Wicca scares her. I tend to believe it’s because of the fundamentalist wailing about Evil Satanists among us, plus a tendency to read books by right-wing preachers, who also tie themselves in knots over Islam as well as calling us Wiccans baby-killers and devil worshipers.
Despite this, my husband and I love her dearly. She is a true steel magnolia. Born on a small farm in Alabama, she was one of thirteen children. She picked cotton as a child.. They had no indoor plumbing as late as the early 60s, because my husband can remember using the outhouse. They were poor as church mice, but so was everyone else in their tiny town, so they didn’t realize it. What they had was a lot of love from her father, a veteran of WWI who looked a great deal like Colonel Potter on MASH, and her mother, who stood several inches taller than her husband, a sturdy woman he adored and called ”Jack”. At 13, she dropped out of school and went to work. She married a man who turned out to be an abusive asshole, and bore him four . He was physically violent toward her and the kids, particularly hating my husband. After several attempts to leave, she finally divorced him. She got a GED ins spite of her husband ridiculing her for never having gone to high school My husband gave her a chunk of his savings so she could start her Pre-K, and support herself and his baby sister. At age 68, she went back and got a technical certificate as a Pre-K teacher.
In many ways, her life sounds grim, but Annie is the kind of woman who makes lemonade when handed lemons. She found ways to be happy, no matter what happened. She finds joy wherever she looks: in her children and grandchildren, in the flowers in her backyard, in her belief in her God. A sunny day is enough to make her smile, and she laughs as much as she can. I wish I had half her resilience and cheerfulness. Don’t get me wrong, she can be a holy terror. I will never forget the time she lambasted some customer service guy over American Express’s failure to cancel the card she had NOT requested—and to take off the fee they charged on it. Poor Sidney will never be the same after she unleashed some four letter words in very imaginative combinations! I don’t think his training had covered handling an extremely irate old Southern country woman. But it did the trick; they canceled the card and she never heard from them again.
For me, the worst part of all this is seeing family politics heat up. My husband is the Cuckoo’s Child in his family, the only one to live further than an hour way from where he went to high school, the only non-Christian, the only liberal Democrat. He’s the oddball. My Elder Ssister-in-law is the personification of Southern Matron (think the Church Lady with a drawl and working on her doctorate), self-important, self-righteous, arrogant, and hypocritical. She and the two nieces we call Thing 1 and Thing2 (because like the characters in The Cat in the Hat, they are utterly unpredictable except that they leave chaos and destruction in their wake; T1 is the daughter of Elder Sil) tried to force MiL from allowing us to live with her, because of our religion. She refused. They then tried the “we won’t come for any holiday while they live under your roof” gambit. She told them that was fine. Family gatherings were then held in Younger SiL’s house (the mother of T2, who is the really nasty one; Annie fired her as a Pre-K teacher because she mouthed off to her at a school staff meeting, and tried to pull rank on the other teachers as Annie’s granddaughter).
When we learned of MiL’s illness, my husband leaped into action. I told Annie he’d drive her to the hospital every day and stay with her after chemo if she needed him. He wanted to go to the appointments with the doctors but the presence of T1 and Elder SiL made that difficult. Annie knows the situation—that they had been nasty as can be to us when we did attend family get-togethers—but simply realizes that telling them to knock it off won’t actually accomplish anything. She simply sees us separately, at least once a week, with phone calls every other night at least. My husband finally swallowed his anger and went to her final appointment, ignoring his sibling and T1 (she’s a nurse). It’s very sad that in the midst of this crisis, people can’t let their issues drop. My husband seems to be the one doing all the dropping while the others put their noses up in the air at him. His mother means more to him than his discomfort at having to deal with a sibling and nieces who make their disdain all too obvious. They’re working out the schedule for driving her to and from the hospital, and I fully expect my husband to be spending several nights a week at her hosue after Chemo Days.
With all that said, the reason I’m writing this post is to ask for prayers for my mother-in-law to make a full recovery. She deserves a happy, peaceful, old age. She only retired this summer after working for 65 years straight. She’s a good and caring woman. Prayers, kind thoughts, candles, healing energy will be gratefully appreciated. I asked her permission to solicit prayers, and she’s grateful. If it contributes to her mindset through the next grueling six weeks of Chemo Hell, I will be very, very grateful