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Things I Wish I Had Known About My Mother's Remission

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They all ask me “How is she?”

“Is she better?”

“Is she healthy?”

I tilt my head, look at them, and I smile. She is in remission. At this moment in time, the seriousness and intensity of her disease and pain has diminished. My mother has temporarily recovered from multiple myeloma.

Multiple myeloma is when cancerous plasma cells accumulate in the bone marrow and crowd out the healthy blood cells. This can cause weakening and breaking of bones. My mother was diagnosed after she drove herself to the emergency room with back pain. The cancer had eaten through her spine.

After countless rounds of chemotherapy, medications and a stem cell transplant, she is in remission. Her blood work is normal and her chemotherapy has been cut down to twice a month. Although multiple myeloma is treatable, it is not curable. We know that there are cancer cells lurking in her body, but for now they lay dormant.

Remission is not exactly the loud, wild and carefree celebration I imagined. My mother has not bounced back; things are not back to normal. She spent her life working, multitasking and managing it all and now she stays home. She would love to travel, but all the medicine she is on does not make it easy nor spontaneous. She wants to scoop up and run after her grandchildren, but she is still too weak. She used to have energy late into the evening, now she barely sees the sunset before she is in bed. She used to lay in the sun, now the heat makes her sick. Her memory is stunted, her concentration causes her to struggle. The music is not blaring and we are not dancing.

Remission is a small, intimate gathering. It is a quiet, calm and thoughtful celebration.  She is able to hug her grandchildren without the fear of germs. She is able to enjoy a visit out of the house with friends. She can stand long enough to cook her mother’s beloved recipe and share it with her family. She is able to watch her grandchildren’s sports and cheer them on in real life. She is able to come to birthday parties and enjoy a piece of cake. We all were able to surround her on her 60th birthday as she blew those candles out, symbolic of another year around the sun.

Although the party wasn’t raging and we all did not lose ourselves in the celebration, the moment I witnessed as my mother turned another year older was the most profound celebration I can imagine. The celebration of something not promised feels so much sweeter. Remission may not be exactly what we expected, but we would certainly like to stay for a while.

Getty image by bernardbodo

Originally published: June 11, 2021
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