The diagnosis came suddenly, but it wasn't entirely unexpected. My mother, 66 years old and the daughter of Italian immigrants, had breast cancer in 2010. After treatment that included a mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation, she was declared cancer-free. But she was like her parents when it came to illnesses: old-school, unwilling to share details because she didn't want to trouble people with her burdens, never wanting to seem a complainer, silent through her pain. So when she went to the hospital with what she swore was just a touch of pneumonia, I wasn't surprised to find out it was worse than that, though I was shocked at how bad it was.
The cancer had not only returned but metastasized to her bones, to her lungs, and to her liver. What she thought was bronchitis was actually an orange-sized mass in her chest that choked off her breathing. A liter and a half of fluid was drained from her lungs.
She was given one round of chemotherapy in the hospital. She was ambivalent about receiving it, due to the ravaging nature of the treatment. She was still frail and a bit confused from previous rounds of cancer treatments and other chronic ailments that had worn down her body and mind. The chemo laid waste to her, leaving her vomiting and dry heaving around the clock. Watching her wracked, thin frame double over, retching into an emesis basin, I knew she wouldn't want to continue with treatment. She told me she resisted the offer of chemo initially but the doctors wore her down, insisting it was the best thing for her. She just wanted to go home; it was a mantra she kept repeating from the moment she was admitted to the hospital.