Sources of Strength

Dedication: My wonderful mother.

I’ve always been very close with my mother, although we now live an ocean apart – she’s in California, where I grew up, and I’m in Europe. She’s an exceptional mother, the very best cheerleader a girl or woman could hope for in life. Over the last year, I also learned more about myself through her as – together – we helped her overcome significant medical challenges.

My mom has a rare blood cancer and has been on chemo for quite some time. One of the manifestations of her cancer is blood clots, including lots of clots in her lungs, so she’s also on blood thinners to manage the clotting. Last November, she had a small internal surgical procedure and was off blood thinners for a couple days to help the wound site heal…but not long enough. In early December she was hospitalized in critical condition, as the wound ulcerated and she was bleeding profusely. She experienced a severe lower GI hemorrhage and hemorrhagic shock, requiring urgent medical attention and 7 units of blood; doctors later estimated she lost about half the blood in her body in a very short period of time.

As soon as I could, I booked a flight to be with her. My weakened mother then had a series of medical complications (a long list, including a UTI “superbug,” pneumonia, kidney issues, low oxygen, anemia, edema, etc.) that necessitated her staying in the hospital for over 3 weeks. I spent 10 days with her at the hospital, 16-18 hours a day (including Christmas), including every night to make sure she had every need covered. With no medical background, I didn’t know how to help…but I learned quickly. I let the nurses know when she needed urgent help, brought meals and encouraged her to eat, ensured she was comfortable, shared family stories, carried out her Christmas requests, liaised with family to let them know updates on her condition, and coordinated visits with close relatives. I also learned that knowledge is power: using her medical app that showed all the results of daily blood draws and other tests, I was equipped with the data to understand and direct our daily conversations with the doctor.

I am fairly certain that if my siblings and I hadn’t been there and intervened as patient advocates with respect to her treatment and care, she would not still be with us – an empowering but also very scary and sobering thought. In the end, she survived the 3 weeks in the hospital and 6 weeks in a nursing home, and came home shortly before that nursing home had its first case of COVID-19. Nine months since her release from the hospital, she has regained a lot of strength, and spends time working on a book about her parents and helping her grandchildren with distance learning. She’s the strongest woman I know, and I am so fortunate and grateful to have gained some of that strength as well.

-Anonymous (age 41)