by Robert Dinsmoor
When I was four, my mother took me to see “Bambi,” a movie in which the title character’s mother is brutally killed near the beginning. I cried inconsolably. “What happens if you die?” I asked my mother. “What would become of me?”
Her answer was as simple as it was outrageous: “Mommies don’t die.”
My mother was a life-long smoker, smoking corn silk while growing up on a farm in Iowa, secretly buying cigarettes from the store where she worked as a teenager, and graduating to a full-blown two-pack-a-day habit as an adult. She had tried to quit, even switching to a pipe for a while, and seemed to relish the strange looks she got when smoking it in public. She was diagnosed with lung cancer when I was fifteen.
Yet, my mother was tough. She often said she was too busy to be bothered by lung cancer. She struggled through chemo, radiation, and the removal of one lung and became one of the very small minority who survived for five years. In fact, she survived for more than 30. Her body became an anomaly: Her ribs were spiky and distorted following radiation, and her internal organs shifted around to make up for the space left by the removal of her lung. She loved watching the confusion of radiologists examining her x-rays and young doctors trying to locate her heart during physical exams. Sometimes, deep down inside, I felt as if she survived all those years to keep her promise to me.
Her cancer returned when I was in my late forties and she was in her seventies. Now, given her age and her frail condition, the surgeons forewent chemo, radiation, and radical surgery, opting instead to place a metal barrier between the tumor and her back rib to keep it from causing pain.
Early one morning, my sister and I took her into the hospital. It was raining heavily—at least that’s the way I remember it. Mom was hyperventilating from nervousness, taking frequent breaths from her asthma inhaler. She looked so frail that my sister and I walked on either side of her to catch her if she teetered. It felt as if we were escorting a condemned prisoner to the electric chair.
We both told Mom she would be fine but neither of us was entirely sure.
We waited nervously in the waiting room. After a few hours, the surgeon came out. He told us that the operation was a success, that Mom was now coming out of anesthesia, and that my sister and I could see her now.
When we came into the recovery room, Mom asked us when she was going in for surgery. My sister explained that the operation was over, and Mom beamed.
Nonetheless, Mom said she was very confused. She mentioned that she had run into our family doctor in the hallway, and that he had told her to be on the alert for brain damage from the anesthesia.
Calmly but firmly, my sister explained that it was very unlikely that she had run into Dr. Bomba in the hallway, as he was now retired and living in Pennsylvania. Further, she said, confusion was very common when coming out of anesthesia and not necessarily a sign of brain damage.
“So, Ma, don’t be overly concerned about the confusion!” I piped in.
Mom turned to me, her eyes widened, and she snapped, “Who the hell are you?”
Startled, I looked up at my sister and then back down at my mother. Mom cracked a smile, and then began to chuckle at the “gotcha” moment she had just pulled off. Soon we were all laughing. That’s when I knew that despite the cancer, despite the surgery, and despite the anesthesia, Mom was still very much with us.
Category: Memoir, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing