By Kyra Pooley
It was my first time home since my mom’s diagnosis: the doctors said she had a rare form of stage four appendix cancer. I’d never even heard of that. But it’d spread to just about every other organ in her abdomen, turning my world upside down in an instant and confronting me with intense changes nothing could have prepared me for.
Though, selfishly, I never realized it then, growing up, I always had what most would call a picture perfect life. I come from a close-knit family. I have a beautiful, hardworking mother, a creative and talented father who loves her, and a smart, athletic and musically gifted brother who makes them both proud every single day.
Before I was born, my dad started his company, iGov, a government contracting company that has deals with the Army, the Navy, the Marines, and many other government agencies. I mean this humbly and say it only to show my mother’s true character and work ethic, but she did not have to work. She could have chosen to be a housewife or stay-at-home mom like many people do where I come from. To that, she said, “hell no.”
When I was little, my mom worked for Booz Allen Hamilton, writing proposals and managing projects. Even after working her way up to the top of the company, that wasn’t enough for her.
When I was in middle school, she decided to leave Booz Allen and became a freelance writer, and has done that ever since. It is something she excels at and loves. It was a part of her identity.
But now, is the last of her concerns.
Even though it wasn’t something she had to be, she has always been the most hardworking and dedicated mother I have ever met. These characteristics run deep for her, they go beyond her work life and get applied to everything she does.
When I was little, I wanted to be a competitive cheerleader like my cousin Hunter. My mom on the other hand, had always envisioned me being a softball or basketball player, like herself. She put her dream aside, knowing all that really mattered was if I was happy. Although she did not love the idea of her 11-year-old daughter on stage in front of judges wearing a crop top, a mini skirt and a spray tan finished off with about two pounds of makeup, she embraced it. She was at every practice and I spotted her face first in the crowd at every competition. But again, that wasn’t enough.
After seeing how happy cheer made me, the next year, and for almost every year after that she was the “team mom.” A somewhat prestigious title in the cheer world, reserved for a dedicated mother, tasked with things like making gift bags for the team before every competition, helping girls with their hair and makeup and being there for the team in general, no matter what it was related to.
At the time, I was thankful, but didn’t really think much of it. Looking back, her ability to do this for me while balancing a professional career, my brother and his sports, and her own personal life amazes me. My mom’s hardworking character and desire to never give up while always striving for more is something I took for granted and never fully appreciated until recently.
From the moment my flight landed at Washington-Dulles airport, I knew that I was “home.” But that wasn’t what it felt like. The realization began to set in that things were going to be different. If this was even two months earlier, my mom would have been excitedly waiting for me outside the airport. Likely having sat there for at least 30 minutes, not wanting to risk being late to see me. And, usually with a surprise like food from one of my favorite local restaurants. And always with my dogs, Yuki and Keko in the car, knowing that would put a smile on my face.
This time, the plan was for my dad to pick me up, as my mom could hardly walk 20 feet without having to take a break and sit down because of the intense and chronic pain she feels. When I landed, the first thing I saw was a text from my dad telling me to take an Uber home. Even though he hasn’t gone to work for more than a couple hours at a time in weeks, he was exhausted.
I knew he would be tired, after spending the week before traveling around the country with my mom, visiting the top four appendix cancer specialists to ensure she will receive the best care possible. He blamed it on the fact that he had spent the day driving my mom to doctors’ appointments and making trips to different stores to pick up medications and anything else my mom needed.
He would never admit it but something tells me a big factor was the emotional exhaustion that I’m sure he must feel from seeing the love of his life is such an unrecognizable state, marked by intense pain and sadness. A sadness I have never seen from a person so positive, happy and bright that she named her first born child (me) after the sun itself.
As my Uber pulled into my driveway, I saw my dad on the porch, waiting alone. My mom was inside, relaxing on her new massage chair they got to make sure she will be as comfortable as possible through this battle.
After getting inside, one of the first things I noticed was my mom’s desk. Usually neatly organized with nothing on it but her desktop monitor, her laptop and maybe a few neatly laid out papers. Physical proof of her hardworking character and ability to keep her life well managed and organized. This time, it was cluttered with flowers and cards sent by loved ones reading things like “Cancer is tough, but you’re tougher” or “Keep calm and kick cancer’s butt!”
It felt strange. I loved seeing how much support and love my mom receives while I’m almost 800 miles away at school, but I absolutely despised the reason behind it.
Then it happened: I saw my mom.
Noticeably paler and skinnier than when she came to visit me in early September, only days before we found out she was sick. Although she used to wake up at the crack of dawn every morning to go to the gym, I had never seen her so thin in my life. Despite the fact that she almost looked like a different person, seeing her face was the first time I felt “home” since I got off of the plane. I ignored the fact that I could feel her sharp spine and ribs that I had never felt before. When I hugged her, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace.
It was a peacefulness that I used to feel regularly, but had not felt even when we thought the worst-case scenario was my mom having ovarian cancer that could be removed through surgery. When that surgery revealed the cancer had started in her appendix and was beginning to take over her body, any feelings of peace I had left were taken away.
Even now, no matter what, she continues to put others before herself, checking in on me every day, seemingly more concerned with the “problems” and stress I face as a college student. For those few minutes we talk, she completely disregards what she is going through as someone fighting cancer.
My mom’s hardworking character and desire to never give up is something I wish I had appreciated earlier. This happening is my worst nightmare and has brought about changes no family could ever be ready for.
Still, I cannot imagine a better person to fight this battle. If anyone can get through this, it is my mom. Her will to stay positive for herself and those around her amazes me every day. She is a fighter and has always been someone who never gives up, forever pushing to go further and do more than the average person.
The way she continues to embody these qualities is what I know will get her through this time of change. Get her back to living her normal life. Get us all back to that place where “home” feels like Yuki and Keko in the car outside the airport. The place where dad goes to work regularly and doesn’t spend his days taking care of mom. The place where mom wakes up early to go to the gym then spends time working hard, doing what she is passionate about because her desk is no longer covered in cards and flowers and is back to being her neat work space.