I called my mom today on my 3 p.m. coffee break at Greenberry’s. As I slid into the wooden chair in my long dark gray coat surrounded by people working on their laptops, I pressed my phone to my ear and heard a juicy crunch.
“Hi Erin,” my mom said with her mouth full. “I’m eating an apple and watching Dr. Phil.”
“You’re so wacky,” I said with a chuckle. (And I wonder where I get it.)
“It has peanut butter on it.”
“That sounds tasty,” I said. “Well, I’m having hot chocolate. I’m on my coffee break and I wanted to check in on you.”
“You should eat an apple instead.” (She says “apple” with a flat Michigan “a” that sounds more like “e-apple.”)
“I was eating an apple a day, but I got sick of them.”
“Then you should substitute it for a pear. That’s what I do.”
My mom always says things so matter of fact, it often makes me laugh. She is also ever the mother. She wants to know what I’m eating for dinner (enough protein? a vegetable?) and whether I had breakfast. In the summer, she asks whether I’m wearing sunscreen. In the winter, it’s “Where are your hat and gloves?”
But lately, our roles have reversed.
Diagnosed with breast cancer in July, my mom underwent a lumpectomy, endured chemo therapy and now she is going through radiation every morning at 7 a.m. until January. What worries me is her fever. She has had a fever for more than a month. When she was at the doctor’s office in early November, the doctor said she had pneumonia. She laughed at him because despite the fever, which she has kept under control with Tylenol, she hasn’t felt that bad. She didn’t believe him; the doctor showed her the chest x-ray to prove it.
The pneumonia didn’t keep my mom inside. That night, she went to a black-tie dinner with my dad. Two weeks later, when I was in Detroit for Thanksgiving, she came to the Pistons basketball game at the Palace in Auburn Hills. We had floor seats and I high-fived captain Chauncey Billups as the NBA players took the floor and my mom cheered and laughed and wore a blue balloon hat on her cute blond wig.
But today my mom told me that after two rounds of antibiotics, the pneumonia is still there. Ever the optimist, she said she’s feeling better and sleeping better and her temperature is 98.8. “It’s OK,” she said. “The doctor will take another chest x-ray in February. He said it takes a long time to go away.”
Usually, when things are normal, I talk to my parents once a week or less, and we email during the week. But now I find if I don’t call my mom for a few days, I start to worry. She has spent her whole life trying to protect me from any kind of stress especially related to her Multiple Sclerosis, and now I just want to be informed. I want to know when she’s sad or stressed or scared. I want to protect her.
But, like me, I don’t think she needs protecting. She is talking about planning a party when this is all over, when she beats the cancer and the fevers and the pneumonia. But despite what she needs, when she’s all through with the treatment, I still plan to check in on her every couple of days.