I write this while sitting in a house that has not one piece of furniture except a bed. There are only two things inside its crappy old refrigerator are three bottles of Arrogant Bastard Ale and four bags of TPN (Total Parenteral Nutrition)—liquid calories that replace the real stuff my mom can’t yet eat. Across the dark yard, with its yellowed grass and withered roses giving a feeling of abandonment, my mother is sleeping in an old hacienda style guesthouse. A white tube snakes from an intravenous port in her arm to a small pump that makes a small whoosh whooshing sound as it forces the TPN into her bloodstream.
We moved my mom’s cancer care from Stanford in Palo Alto to Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles last week. I will only say that we felt the move was necessary to up the odds of saving her life. LA has been my home (with a few short diversions) ever since my mom dropped me off at UCLA back in 1983. LA is a city where I know people—most importantly, world class doctors who will care for my mother as if she were their own. I didn’t want to take my mom out of her comfort zone—a house in the hills of the Silicon Valley where she has lived for the last fifty years–but love dictates I do my very best to help her beat this disease. And the very best for my mom is Los Angeles, a place where miracles and magic happen on a regular basis.
The guesthouse my mom will call home for the next several months while she endures chemotherapy, radiation, and finally a massive surgery, sits at the back of a property we bought a month before she was diagnosed with cancer. The house was a foreclosure, abandoned by the owners who ripped the appliances out and left behind a disaster zone. Our plan was to fix it up and sell it, but instead, Ethan and I spent three days cleaning, painting and buying and borrowing furniture. When my mom arrived after a long drive from San Jose, the blood transfusion she’s had that morning giving her face a healthy glow, she seemed a little awed by the cozy nest we’d created.
“There are gifts in the bad things that happen to us that we don’t realize until much later,” she said, looking at the family photos we had put up to make her feel comfortable, the delicate orchids to make her feel special, and the small, well stocked kitchen to make her feel hungry. “Already I’ve received the gift of so much love that keeps coming at me that I can’t believe it. And it is such a gift that I can now get in and out of my own bed instead of that clunky hospital one!”
“Clunky” is such a Gabriele word. It’s how she would likely describe herself now, lugging around the black bag containing the pump and liquid food that is connected to her like an umbilical cord. Clunky is how she must feel to find herself suddenly transplanted to Los Angeles, where the freeway system alone could scramble a healthy woman’s brain. Clunky is the way her stomach and gut are working—slowly recovering from the near deadly overdose of 5-FU that hospitalized her at Stanford for over two weeks.
But I don’t feel clunky here at all. In fact, for the first time since I learned my mom had cancer, I feel sure of myself. LA is my town and it has always truly felt like a city full of angels. And so I sit in the lone bed in a dark, empty house across the yard from my mom no longer feeling so horribly scared. Instead, what I feel is hope.