Time is supposed to heal our wounds, that’s what people say; but when you lose your best friend you realize that no amount of time will heal that void that is left.
My mother was diagnosed with non small cell lung carcinoma three months after I turned eighteen, only weeks after what would turn out to be our last family portrait. The day the test results came back the only words I heard during the meeting were “cancer” which meant someday I’d be burying her. I don’t recall anything else; but she heard something very different she heard “cancer” and thought how do I fight this and win.
She had an amazing oncology team that outfitted her with an aggressive and varied game plan and a thing called a port; but the most important thing they both shared was an optimistic attitude. When they gave her the port in her chest where she would get her chemotherapy , she was not upset that she had to get a port or that she was having chemicals placed in her body and hoping they would work; nope she was upset she was not the first person to get the port , she was number two. When they decided on radiation she got her long beautiful brown hair cut off into a short cute style and donated it for other people to get a wig; after all hers would grow back when she was in remission. She had an amazing belief that God would not have given her this to battle if she were not capable. She believed it was given to her because she was supposed to teach someone, somewhere, something and it may not be during her battle or during her remission it may be long after her death ; but if one person was saved or one person learned something than the fight was worth it.
We took the time we were given and made amazing memories going to see our favorite places like Red Rocks or the buffalo herd, we also made memories and new traditions when we spent time in the hospital. If we were there during football season we ordered pizza and had it delivered to her room and then invited her nurses to come have a snack and catch up on the score. We enjoyed watching animated movies and we even got her a Gameboy to play the mind teaser games while she sat for hours getting chemo. In January, we received word our dad had suddenly passed, my parents had divorced when I was two. Her concern while she was in a hospital bed was not herself, but was us , her kids. Several months later we got a phone call that her father had unexpectedly passed away. She was a daddy’s girl and was unable to travel to his funeral so we filmed it for her. When we were in another state, our “sister from another mister”, her friend from work who was like a daughter to her, stayed with her while we buried our dad. It was on this trip we almost lost her, her blood pressure was so low they said they didn’t know how she was awake and talking. She persevered.
As she grew weaker we made final plans, it was an enormously painful task asking her to decide where she wanted to be buried, what songs she wanted played and writing her will and her making the decision to not be resuscitated. Her wish was to die at home and we wanted to give her that. She had sacrificed her life for us, given us everything we could have ever wanted. She fought incredibly hard, she was my superman and I was watching her die and there was nothing I could do about it. She said that her goal was just to make it to January, so that her kids didn’t lose both their parents in the same year, but she would not make it. I remember begging God to either heal her or take her but I was not fair to make her stay just for us. It was not fair to make her suffer when she gave us such a wonderful life, after all we had each other to lean on. She deserved to be at peace.
Fifteen days after her fifty-fifth birthday we made the calls to have everyone say their goodbyes. She was aware of where she was so we brought photographs and blankets and loved on her, the nurses said she knew we were there but she couldn’t respond or open her eyes or anything. I gave her a kiss and told her it was okay to go, that she didn’t have to stay here in pain for us, she deserved to be happy and at peace with the family in heaven.
I stayed with her and she passed on October 18, 2007.
This year marks ten years since she has been gone, she has missed so much. I enlisted in the military, my brother is dating a wonderful woman, my sister got married and her and her wife have an adorable son. I got married and have a now five year old step son, bought a house and will complete my college degree this year. She gave us life and taught us about everything from friendship to how to do laundry but most importantly she taught us to never give up because even cancer can be beaten. It was not a physical victory, but victory for the soul.
No matter what happened through her illness she never let it define her as a person. She was able to complete one last thing on her bucket list when she earned her wings: she was able to be an organ donor and donate her eyes to someone who needed them. Even in her death she was able to put someone else before herself ! Please if you are fighting this illness know that there is hope, it may not end up being a physical victory but if you keep your sense of humor and your love of life than cancer can never truly be victorious. God bless you on your trip down the yellow-brick road!
In loving memory: Patricia Fay Hartlep (October 3, 1952- October 18, 2007)
Thank you to all those who care for those fighting! Bless those who love those struggling and rejoice for those who have earned their wings!