After My Mother's Cancer
by Sadie Pauline Hutson
In Memory of Joy Ann Neureuther
Born: June 7, 1950
Died: June 25, 1990
A Note from the Editor: This story, offered by Sadie Pauline Hutson, is made available through The Center for Digital Storytelling. The purpose of the center is support people in sharing and bearing witness to stories that lead to learning, action, and positive change.
We process theologians believe that it is stories such as these that can indeed lead to learning, action, and positive change.
As we listen we realize that we, too, are beckoned to be nurses in the world, not reducing the world to business, but rather caring for people in concrete and loving ways, with our hands and hearts, our presence and our practices.
We realize that we, too, can trust in the availability of fresh possibilities: possibilities which come from a source wider than the sea yet dwelling in each of us, moment by moment, as an invitation to love others and accept their love.
We understand that much of life is a salvage operation, not in a negative sense, but in the sense that even the hardest of experiences can be saved when we build upon the past and, in the words of Monica Coleman, make a way out of no way.
We realize that helping others provides one way that they continue to live in us and beyond us, too, in those we love. We are all nurses in the making: even if we work in factories or on farms, in classrooms or in coffee shops. And even if we cannot work at all, we can bloom where we are planted.
And amid this we may sometimes find ourselves singing and sensing that, in some mysterious way, our songs are heard by something so deep, so tender, that it includes all ancestors, all sorrows and all joys, in a perpetual spring.
I put the flowers that Linda's family sent at the nurse's station. Before Linda died, I had come to talk with her, her husband, and their two adult sons.
I did that every Saturday for three months. We were always in the same small, sterile room. We never talked about cancer.
One Saturday Linda asked me: "Why are you so wise?"
When I as six I wrote in a book about my dreams: "I want to be a singer like Crystal Gale. I will also help people."
A few month's later my mother -- Joy -- was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was thirty-two years old.
Chemotherapy, radiation, radical mastectomy -- kids shouldn't know these words. My friends didn't know me anymore. And I didn't know them, either.
How do you talk about scars, and surgery, and vomiting. We played foursquare at recess and said nothing.
For seven years I studied the people who cared for my mom. The doctor's made her cancer a business. But when a nurse was there it was different. My mom was optimistic, trusting and joyful, as though she was reuniting with an old friend.
When I was eleven a homecare nurse brought supplies to our house and showed me how to clean and flush my mom's port, and change the dressing. I held my breath when I pulled the needle out or pushed the needle in.
My mom smiled and said that I would be a great doctor or nurse someday. I remember her saying pursue your education; it is one of the few things in life that can never be taken away.
The hospital bed was in front of the bay view window in our living room. My mother's shallow breathing was all I could hear. I dug my hand into the basket of nail polish in order to her favorite color of red and uncovered her toes from the layers.
My grandmother said that this was unnecessary. I kept polishing. I focused on making every stroke just right.
My mother died two weeks after her fortieth birthday.
I have a ninety minute drive to and from work,. I sing all the way there and all the way home. And I am a nurse and I am a doctor.
The card attached to the bouquet was from Linda's family was in a yellow envelope. The short inscription read: You brought us sunshine, your mom would be proud.