Five weeks ago, my mother was diagnosed with Stage IV (Metastatic) Breast Cancer. By the time it was diagnosed, the cancer was well advanced, even for Stage IV. Things my mother has said to me directly and things that she has said to other family members suggest that she has known for some time (perhaps years) that she was ill. However, she chose to treat her illness with herbal preparations and other alternative approaches. She did not visit an MD until she was having difficulty breathing and one of her arms had swollen to three times its normal size. She went so far as to cancel her Medicare Part B insurance some months ago. She has no other insurance, apart from government-provided Medicare and Medicaid.
It’s hard to assess my mother’s reasons for refusing medical treatment until it was too late for radiation or chemotherapy to be effective. She says she has lived a full live and that she’s not sorry to go. She does not show any sign that her comforting beliefs in alternative medicine, reincarnation, and spirit guides have waned in the face of her illness. On the other hand, she’s not had a long-term intimate relationship since she divorced my father in 1967. Perhaps fear of living alone and growing progressively more feeble due to illness motivated her to find a way to go quickly. Perhaps she was in denial about the severity of what was happening to her. Perhaps she she really believed that herbs would cure her cancer.
My own feelings are mixed. I don’t share her belief system, so it’s hard not to dismiss her ideas about reincarnation and spirit guides as wishful thinking. I know this: I’m not ready to lose my mother. I wish she had gotten effective medical treatment sooner. Now all I can do is tell her that I love her and wait.
Update: my mother passed away December 23, 2011. She was lucid and speaking to the staff of the nursing home until shortly before she died.