Column: No obituary now and not for a long timeSeptember 27, 2017
By SCOTT SAALMAN
Last month, mom pulled me aside: “I want you to write my obituary.” Suddenly, this word-guy was wordless.
Her request was surprising because at that point she was in remission from colon cancer. Her mind, will and spirit had no intentions of returning to the pre-remission days. The thought of an obituary seemed to be the farthest thing from her mind.
“I don’t mean in the short-term,” she said when I didn’t respond. “Maybe 10 years from now I’ll need it. Or even later when I turn 100.”
I downplayed the idea. “If you reach the century mark, I would likely need to write my own obituary before yours,” I said, trying to joke my way out of the quicksand that suddenly seemed to envelop me.
Mom was walking on sunshine ever since the positive report from the cancer doc on May 23 of this year. The doc was pleased with the results after her every-other-week chemo treatments. He used the R word. Remission. I cannot recall a happier moment spent with my parents, this being in the same hospital where our American horror story started in 2016 when we were officially told about her Stage 4 colon cancer, the worst moment spent with my parents.
After the good news, mom celebrated with an afternoon margarita. There was a downside to this upside, she joked: “The two of you can’t play the cancer card anymore.” She had previously given us permission to play what she called “the cancer card” if her sickness could give us an advantage. Perhaps our sob story could get us out of a speeding ticket or whatever. “I’m sorry, officer, for going 100 mph in a school zone, but my mom has cancer.” I never took her up on the offer. But I believe dad did, nabbing a free room in Biloxi.
Mom was all salt-rimmed and smiles. Dad and I toasted her, shared in the victory. It was like we had all been given a second chance. Cue Freddy Mercury: We were “the champions of the world.”
Other than her hair loss, it wasn’t evident to the eye that mom had been sick. She was warned at the start that the hair might go. Mom could live with “might.” Might meant it would happen or it wouldn’t. She was a gambler. She knew about odds. A veteran of the casinos, she knew Lady Luck, her fickleness.
A few chemo treatments passed. She continued her regular Friday salon trips. Then one day I got an email. “The time has come,” she wrote. Chemotherapy had begun robbing her of her hair. During mom’s last appointment, the beautician kept rinsing her own hands to rid herself of the hair clumps freely coming from mom’s scalp.
“It’s a matter of time before it all comes out,” she told me.
“So what,” I said. “I’ve been bald most of my life. You can be beautiful like me.”
“You ain’t a girl,” she responded.
She reflected on other women with cancer who had considered their hair loss as the most depressing time in their lives.
“They cry and cry and cry as they watch it all fall out,” mom said. “I’m not going to do that.”
True to her word, she scheduled a buzz cut.
We went to my Aunt Jane’s house to try on wigs. Jane was a breast cancer survivor. She had several to choose from. I tried one on, too, to keep things light.
Mom modeled her wigs in Jane’s backyard. Each time she stepped outside, it was like the emergence of a new person. She was a flicker of light in her darkest period. Some wigs made her look much younger. With each wig, mom looked more beautiful. I think dad enjoyed each metamorphosis.
She picked out a wig, one that didn’t even look like a wig when adorned.
Mom remained super positive during her treatments. She and dad continued living their lives the way they had always lived them. They never missed their all-weekend-every-weekend vigils to Tropicana Evansville to court Lady Luck. They continued their standing dinner date on Fridays at Cavanaugh’s, the casino’s swanky restaurant. They followed through on their every Friday and Saturday night reservations at the Le Merigot hotel across the street.
If you didn’t know her, you’d likely not suspect she even had cancer. If anything, mom’s sickness was only evident in her husband’s face, which had noticeably aged since her diagnosis. She had been the love of his life since they were Tell City teens. Sadly, we learned about mom’s cancer on dad’s 72nd birthday. Emergency surgery to remove the cancer from her colon (unfortunately it had spread by then) kept my parents from celebrating his birthday, and for this, mom felt most terrible — and still does. She made up for it, though, on his 73rd — at Cavanaugh’s of course.
I believe mom’s positive frame of mind played just as important of a role in her remission as the chemo.
Her hair returned.
Earlier this month, four months since her remission status, follow-up test results after a scan weren’t favorable.
Mom has a new R in her life now: radiation. She remains positive.
I have not written her obituary yet.
I don’t plan to until she turns 100.
We’ll keep fighting ’til the end.
The next Will Read and Sing for Food show to benefit the Just Cause playground renovation project on Jasper's northside is at 7 p.m. on Oct. 10 at the Jasper Middle School auditorium. Admission is a $10 donation.
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