Arroz con leche: The last meal I made for my mom

By Gorge Gallardo | 

“Mrs. Gallardo, you have breast cancer …”

That’s how I imagine the doctor telling my mother during her routine check-up. But I wasn’t there. It was two years before I was born.

I can only imagine what she was going through the first time she was diagnosed. Grateful to have my five older siblings there to comfort her.

Two years after I was born, she was left with a scar on her chest and in remission. She was able to avoid chemo since they removed her left breast and because the cancer didn’t spread.

Life was great during those years in remission. She enjoyed life, raised her six kids, and then helped raise 10 grandchildren. She loved to travel, but most of all she enjoyed being around family. That was her greatest joy in life. Every night she cooked homemade traditional Mexican foods like menudo, tamales, Mexican rice, beans, and my personal favorite, chile Colorado.

Then life took an unexpected turn. When I turned 21, she started complaining about random spurts of pain, a difference in her throat and changes in her eating habits. At first she didn’t know what to think. Her breathing became difficult. Her tongue began to swell.

My mom was stubborn — afraid to face the truth. My father convinced her to see the doctor and she finally scheduled a visit.

Again, the doctor’s diagnosis was cancer, but this time it grew around her thyroid. I was there in the room with her this time. My legs were numb, my palms sweaty and my throat dry. I didn’t know what to say. I had never seen my mom’s will broken, yet she showed signs of strength — stubbornness. She still wanted to fight.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but after trips to chemotherapy sessions, she showed impeccable strength — the ambition to once again beat this villain she fought before. I didn’t know what to expect or how to comfort her in this new situation. I hugged her tight, letting her know that I would be there for her every step of the way. I knew my mom wouldn’t give up, and we tried everything to help fight off the cancer.

My siblings and I began to research as much as we could. We looked for modern advances in science to ward off cancer cells. We called multiple hospitals around the country to find the best doctors. I found home remedies that might help hold it back. Flax seeds were supposed to help damaged cells, and I told her to take them with her meals. She loved fruit shakes, bananas, milk, pinches of sugar, vanilla extract and flax seeds. She couldn’t stomach too many solid foods after her weekly session. The chemo was taking over her body — the area around here eyes started getting dark, her skin pale and her hair was almost gone.

Through six months of chemo, my mom battled for her life. The last doctor’s visit he told us — my mom, dad, my sister and me — the chemo was working and the cancer cells had decreased. The tissue scarring on her throat would show, but over time heal. We were all happy. We offered to take my mom out to eat where ever she wanted. Very modest, she decided to go home to make arroz con leche (rice with milk).

Remission, a second time we hear those words from the doctor on the last visit, and that was a relief. This still meant we shouldn’t forget about what happened and try not to steer in a different direction. We still needed to take care of my mom until her strength came back. Slowly over months of rehab, her legs were stronger, her hair was coming back and life once again was just back to normal. She was able to enjoy her favorite meals, cook once again for her family and live her life free of cancer. Or so we had hoped.

My mom still continued her routine check-up just to keep an eye out for any lingering cancer cells. Not a sign until her eating habits changed again. This time the doctor found very small spots on her liver — more cancer cells. I couldn’t believe it. It was back — the cancer didn’t want to stop. Still, I knew she could get over it. I had confidence she could beat it.

My mom didn’t take the news well and she just about gave up. Her will was broken, her spirit diminished and her desire to live almost gone. The worst news was still ahead. She was told to do a thorough examination of herself from head-to-toe to look for lumps. She found one on the back of her head, just above the spinal column, and the doctor called for another MRI. I knew this was going to be the worst news we had ever gotten. All my siblings, my father and I piled into a room to find out what the scans revealed.

The doctor turned to all of us, then my mother, and said, “Mrs. Gallardo, you have 10 lesions around your brain. Two of which are right in your nervous system.”

Her only options were: to operate on the ones around her brain and to be put back on chemo to fight the two in her nervous system, or just live the rest of her life — what little time she had left. I looked at her face. She didn’t shed a tear. She gave a sad sigh and then looked straight into my eyes. She decided to live her life.

The final months were not kind to my mom, yet she kept pressing forward. Every night she turned to my father and told him, “take care of Gorge. I just want to know that he will be fine.”

My mother always cared for others, more so than herself. This is one of the lessons I took from her. It’s for that reason I never want to be selfish. That I always want to make sure others I care for and love will be fine. Her strength to keep going, her continuous will to live, still overwhelms me. She never wanted to give up. Why should I?

Four and a half months later, the last meal I made for my mom was arroz con leche. She fell into a deep sleep that following morning and never woke up again.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Be the first to comment on "Arroz con leche: The last meal I made for my mom"

Leave a comment