So….let’s move on. As I stated on my last post, things went without incident for several years, other than the fact that I wasn’t really myself anymore. My relationship with my husband became less volatile due to the fact that I was so incredibly passive and just allowed things to happen the way he wanted them to. (Later on, he would eventually tell me that he married the “crazy Cassie” not the “zombie Cassie.”)
In 2010, my father was diagnosed with cancer. This is the first time I ever experienced anxiety and it hit me hard to say the least. I remember a specific incident right after leaving my parents’ home where I was driving and my husband just mentioned something about my dad, not about his diagnosis, just a passing comment. That was the first time I had a full-blown panic attack. My chest closed, my vision blurred, my brain just shut down. Luckily we were turning into our parking lot at home as this was happening and I was able to park safely. I was terrified. I had never experienced anything like it, but I knew exactly what it was and it became the norm. I finally contacted my doctor about the anxiety and went through a slew of anxiety meds and finally settled on visteril/hydroxizine. It helped…sort of. Eventually my dad was declared cancer-free and my anxiety became a rarity.
Now this is where the story gets really fun, so hold on tight. On August 21, 2013, my mom was admitted to the hospital with what was originally thought to be pneumonia. They did an x-Ray of her chest and told us there was a mass on her lung that was probably a pneumonia effusion. Even from that very second, I knew I was ultimately going to be losing my best friend in a very short period of time. I never said it to anyone, especially not her, I knew what it was. I kept a positive facade until I got the phone call that would just confirm what we already knew…my mom had lung cancer. At first, I just cried. Eventually I felt sort of a numbness that is hard to explain. I walked into her hospital room, clapped my hands together and cheerfully shouted “so let’s get started on beating this shit.” My mom smiled, I never told her that even at that very second, there wasn’t an optimistic bone in my body. My world was silently crumbling in my head and I kept it all in for her sake and for my kids.
Eventually it became too much and I spoke with my doctor and eventually was put on clonazepam/klonopin. I took it as directed and most panic attacks were lessened or avoided altogether. I started to actually become positive that she would be okay when they said that she would have surgery and remove the cancer, stated as optimistically as when they had removed my father’s cancer. I ALMOST believed it.
The day of her surgery came. My sisters, my father, and myself waited impatiently in the waiting room to hear any information and that they had removed the cancer. Instead her doctor came to us to tell us that they were unable to remove the cancer because it had also attached itself to her diaphragm. All the feelings I had felt when I was pessimistic came crashing down on me. My mother came out of surgery believing the cancer had been removed. All of us couldn’t say anything. We were waiting for the doctor to come and tell her because the weight of it was too crushing for any of us to explain. She spoke happily and acted as if everything were great. The first time that she asked my father if everything went ok, he did the one thing he had never done before, he lied and said plainly “yes” and nothing else. As the day dragged on, the doctor never appeared to give her the news. The next time she mentioned the surgery being a success, my father scooted his chair closer to her hospital bed and my sisters and I tried to brace ourselves. He looked my mother in the eye and took her hand and said “babe, I can’t lie to you. They weren’t able to get the cancer.” I will never forget the look on my mother’s face. I had seen my mother cry in the past, not often but enough times to know what it was like. This was not like all those times. My mother’s face crumpled and tears sprung from her eyes and the heartbreak could be felt by everyone in the room. Really, because every single person in that room’s heart broke at the same time. My sisters and I took turns leaving the room to cry our eyes out in the hallway. This was the moment my world truly fell apart.
The doctor explained that she would endure chemotherapy and radiation, but was honest and told us it was very unlikely the cancer would ever be completely gone. I can’t say how everyone else felt, but I took it as him basically telling us “prepare to lose her, but we can’t tell you how soon.”
My spiral began when I started laying on the couch daily and basically doing the bare minimum it took to care for my children. Every night I cried myself to sleep. I couldn’t handle the thought of losing her and that was the only thing I could thing I could think of. My mother started going to chemotherapy and radiation usually once a week. I was very rarely able to go which broke my heart even more.
Now if you knew me at any time throughout the first 28 years of my life, you would know that I was very anti-drug and anti-cigarette. If I drank, it was maybe 4 times a year and that’s pushing it. At this point though, I started to look for borderline legal ways to numb my pain. No one but my husband knew that these things were happening because I couldn’t possibly share it with the people who knew me best. It started with my abusing the klonopin and day drinking. I would do these things because the guilt I felt of becoming a non-functioning person. I allowed someone close to me share some pot with me. I find it really awkward even typing that because I know nothing about it. I don’t know the lingo people use, I don’t know what any of the measurements mean, I don’t know what the paraphernalia was called, other than calling it “paraphernalia.” Even though I didn’t mind it, it didn’t give me the numbness I was looking for.
Google explained to me that the ingredient in cold medicine entitled dextromethorphan was very good for a dissociative feeling, which was basically what I was looking for. Something that wasn’t TECHNICALLY illegal, something easy to get, and something to make the sad feelings go away for a little while. Google also advised me of what was the best way to obtain the most “DXM” without the other ingredients that would affect my organs so badly. I started off slowly taking Coricidin cough and cold. I would gradually increase the amount that I would take based on how numb it made me. Eventually I had made my way up to taking an entire box of 16 tablets of 30 mg each per day. Some days it would make me feel just how I wanted to feel, others it was too much and I made my husband lay in bed with me and had him tell me what was real and what wasn’t. I don’t want anyone to blame him for enabling me. I was very very adamant that this made me feel better and I would get it myself and he wasn’t aware of how much I was really taking.
The days went on as normal as they could as far as family went. Holidays still occurred the same with the exception of my mother having trouble getting up the stairs or wearing a purple lace baseball cap to hide the baldness that only happened on the very top of her head. Her chemo and radiation continued and I went whenever my husband’s work schedule would allow. My mother took everything in stride as the classy and independent lady she always was. But gradually the 5 phone calls between us would deteriorate to maybe one call or just texting. I started having a hard time seeing her and unintentionally staying away until I received a lecture from my parents telling me that they needed me to act as normal as possible. They needed and wanted me there despite how much it hurt. And they were right. I was wasting what little time I had left with her by staying away thinking it was better for her not to see the mess I had become so I started to come around more. My parents knew something was up with me but really had no idea what I was doing to myself.
Eventually hospice became involved, and I knew that the inevitability of losing her was drawing closer. I started to try to make sure that I had no regrets with her, that she knew exactly how much I loved her and how amazing she had always been as a mother. One day I decided to make a sound recording of her saying she loved me. I knew that I would need it. That I would eventually need to hear her say those words to me and not have her there to say it in person. One day I said to her sitting next to the hospital bed that was now set up in her living room “you know you’re my best friend, right mom?” And in my mother’s fashion, she looked at me and said “I’m not in the mood for this right now, Cassie.” I just laughed. All of my attempts to make sure she had known how I felt about her were pointless. She had always known how I’d felt about her and I had always known how she had felt about me. On one of those days she was in the mood for it, I walked into her house and put her head in my hands and said “You are so beautiful.” To me, despite her skeletal appearance and the sickness in her voice, all I saw was my beautiful momma, the person who had spent my whole life ensuring me that she loved me through actions, not necessarily words. She smiled at me and took my face into her hands and just said “YOU are so beautiful.” And even though I had always known she thought this, my mother hadn’t been one to always say how she felt, so this was one of the few times I actually heard her say it.
Eventually it started to get to the point where it was obvious that it would be weeks, if not days before she would be gone. It was time for Easter and we celebrated gravely. We knew this would be the last holiday we would celebrate with her. We attempted to keep it as normal for the kids as possible. We hid eggs and wrapped my frail mother in a blanket and wheeled her outside to watch while the kids hunted for them, smiling as she always had. Unfortunately, this would be the last time all but one of my children would see her alive. The goodbyes were heartfelt and palpable.
One day, while at a doctor’s appointment with my oldest daughter, I received a phone call saying that I should probably get there as soon as possible because things were looking dire. I drove so quickly trying not to speed, begging whatever was out there not to take her before I got there to say goodbye. My daughter, ever the stoic wonderful child she is, held my hand and stayed calm telling me that everything would be all right, even though I know inside she was crying and screaming just as loudly as I was. I got to my mother’s home, not allowing my daughter in the house. My brother-in-law took her home as I walked into the house to see my mother sitting up, not looking anywhere close to death. The house was nearly silent as she watched television and everyone else just watched her with what felt like bated breath. My sister had told me that all day she had been saying that she was just so tired and just wanted to go to sleep. The dire phone call I received was because my mother would never think of falling asleep with guests in her home. It felt as if she was ready to go. But whenI sat next to her, she looked over at me and smiled. She said to me “All day I’ve been wanting to go to sleep, but now…..” She never finished the sentence, but I will later tell you what I felt she was going to finish the sentence with.
She spoke of the silly checkered shirt I had worn the day prior (although I hadn’t worn a checkered shirt since high school) and the dance crew I was in that was “actually pretty good”. I knew exactly what she was talking about. As a teenager, I had made 4 of my friends learn the dance moves to *N Sync songs. The odd thing to me was that I had always seen my mother’s reaction to that event as one of anger due to to noise or that she had just simply not noticed at all. It was then that all this time I had put my mother on this pedestal, she had always felt that I was just as important to her as she had been to me. My heart felt heavy with conflicting feelings of joy and despair knowing that this person, maybe one of the only people, that had cared for me unconditionally would soon be gone. I had always been staunchly atheist, never believing in life after death, so I grieved her death long before it even occurred.