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Little Miracles
By Dianne M. Ullrich

(Page 1 of 3)

My mother died of advanced breast cancer in September 1999. She had battled the disease for 12 years – successfully for eight of those 12 years. In 1995 the breast cancer reoccurred in her lung and quickly began to spread to the rib cage and sternum. After ten years of successful treatment with hormone therapy, chemo was required. We were told there was only a fifty-fifty chance that Mother’s cancer would respond to treatment.

The worst scenario proved true. After the first round of chemo, the doctor described Mom’s cancer as “beaten down, but not gone.” She said there would be further treatment, but the best we could hope for was slowing progression of the disease. Each round of chemo would prove to be more difficult than the last. Four months after the first round of chemo, Mom’s needs and the sheer number of doctor and hospital visits forced me into the role of sole caregiver. I left my job and stayed home.

Those last 18 months of Mom’s life were undeniably a painful, difficult experience, yet they were also beautiful. Sometime during those 18 months, I came to the realization that I had been blessed with a rare opportunity and privilege – to love literally to the very moment of death the person whose love had given me life. Prior to this time, I had always believed that life was our greatest gift; but my experience with suffering and death left me with a strong conviction that faith, not life, is our greatest gift. Life is ever changing, life ends. Faith is a constant – it is a gift that is always there, if we just accept it.

When you are dealing with the terminally ill (particularly in the role of caregiver), life as you knew and loved it suddenly comes to a screeching halt. You are not only dealing with your emotions (watching someone you love and care about die), you are also dealing with their fragile emotions. The terminally ill person has to come first. You really have the easy task. You only have to deal with losing the person; they have to deal with losing everything and facing life’s ultimate limit – death.

I had come from a corporate background where I was trained to identify the problem, assess the situation, and come up with solutions. I was trained to control the situation – not to allow the situation to control me. Suddenly, I was powerless at a time when I desperately wanted and needed to be in control. This thing, this disease, was rapidly changing, killing my mother and my best friend. I couldn’t do anything about it. I wasn’t in control of the situation. At the same time, Mom seemed to be ignoring the hopelessness of her situation – always planning for the future, focusing only on the positive things the doctor said, asserting that her prayers would be answered and the next round of chemo would put her cancer in remission.

On the outside, I worked hard to maintain an appearance of being in control. An attitude of life as usual was necessary to keep up Mom’s morale. A positive attitude was more important, more potent than any treatment. Inside I was angry, angry at this thing, this disease that couldn’t be controlled -- angry that I could not make things better. I don’t ever recall being angry with God in the sense that He was causing this – but angry in the sense of “where are you when I need you the most?”

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