On this day, twenty-four years ago, my mother died. I miss her. She was killed by pancreatic cancer. Not the kind that ultimately killed Steve Jobs; that was the “good” kind, the one that, if you have the best of medical care and a bunch of luck, you can live with for another few years. It’ll still get you, but you’ll have the time to come to grips with your mortality, and to say your goodbyes properly. But that sort of pancreatic cancer is rare, about 5% of all cases. The common kind is a ruthless and efficient killer. Most of the time, it’s a silent monster growing inside the victim, and doesn’t cause any symptoms. Even when, by chance, it is caught early, the 5-year survival rate is only 5%. In my mom’s case, it wasn’t caught early; she had surgery for an unrelated purpose, and as soon as the doctors saw what was inside, they cancelled the procedure and closed her back up. She died only six weeks later.
I wrote about my mom in 2009, on the 20th anniversary of her death. At the time, I hadn’t had my own experience with cancer; that came the next year, when I was diagnosed with kidney cancer. I’m better now; there was no spread of my cancer, they cut it out of me, and followup CT scans are clean. But now that I’ve taken my own ride on the cancer roller coaster, I know better than ever how much it sucks.
Last month, we took a visit to see my dad, who is 89 and ailing. A couple of years ago, he also had kidney cancer, and had a very extensive surgery to try to get rid of it. But it’s back, spread to one of his lungs, and he has entered home hospice care. While I was there at his place, I brought my scanner, so I could capture the big box of family photos. I came upon this picture of my mother, taken in Massachusetts in 1946, three years before she married my dad. It’s a lovely picture of a pretty, carefree woman who, though she didn’t yet know it, was entering the most fulfilling time of her life. Ahead of her, she had a happy marriage, four children, and a move across the country from New York City to a whole new beginning in California.
I never knew this particular woman. But I’m happy and proud to remember her as the woman she became. She was a good woman, who deserves to be remembered. She was my mom.