When I was 14 years old, my friend's mom called me out of the blue. Once she had me on the line, she threw accusations, saying she didn't want me to hang out with her daughter anymore. Having done nothing wrong, I tried to defend myself, but couldn't break through her angry barrage. Still holding the receiver, I slumped to the floor, defeated.
Anyone who knows my mom knows she is outgoing, loyal, thoughtful and compassionate. They also know she can be tenacious and stubborn. She is a mother bear. She is someone you'd want by your side in battle.
These days she is raging a battle of her own.
Sept. 12, 2011: My phone rings as I step out the front door on my way to work. It is my mother's husband. He has trouble speaking. The ugliest word, I understand: Masses. Masses. They found masses. The words throbbed in my head as I try to make sense of what he's saying. We had just been at her house the night before, celebrating my brother's birthday. She suffered pain from a backache and couldn't eat much cake, but now she is in the hospital and they found masses?
My brother and I are walking quickly across the parking lot toward the hospital entrance. Neither of us dares speak. We enter my mom's room side by side. She sits up in the bed, surprised. "Who called you?" she says.
Crying, we collapse into a three-person hug on her bed.
In the tests and consults that follow, my mother is diagnosed with stage 4 diffuse large B-cell lymphoma — cancer of the lymph nodes. Internet research shows typical prognosis is 60 percent surviving for more than five years. But my mother is young and otherwise healthy, so her percentage is higher. How much, we can't know.
Radiation shrinks the tumor in her spine, bringing her some relief. But it is short lived. The cancer has broken her back, causing three fractures.
Oct. 11: I take my mom downtown to help her pick out a wig. She really doesn't like any of them. I don't blame her.
Nov. 13: My mom's husband calls again. She's so out of it, he can't get her to stay awake. And she's running a fever. My husband, brother and I help him get her into the car and back to the hospital. My daughter and son come with us. It's the first time they've seen her like this. We take turns sitting with her in the room. The doctor comes in to tell us it's pneumonia. The next day, they find something else. A blood clot in her lungs. If it hadn't been for the pneumonia, they wouldn't have found it.
While in the hospital, my mom finds out a very close friend of hers is also diagnosed with lymphoma. They are the same age. He calls her with encouraging words. She returns the favor in the days that follow.
Nov. 24: My mom is well enough to spend Thanksgiving at our house. As we gather around the table, she tells us she is thankful for the nice dinner and all of us, and for each and every day.
Dec. 13: For three months now and throughout the chemo, my mom has put up with that horrible back pain. The doctor finally deems her well enough for surgery. They fill the fractures with orthopedic cement. Mom says she can't wait to feel like a person again.
Dec. 22: My family gets another shock. On the way home from college for Christmas, my son totals his car in a terrifying accident. He climbs out the smashed driver's side window with nothing but scratches and a mild concussion. My mom thinks of this close call and bursts into tears. I am extra thankful to have both of them with us at Christmas.
Dec. 30: My mom spends New Year's Eve in the hospital as pneumonia strikes again. This time, they suspect sepsis or some other infection. They won't let her go home until her white blood cell count is up. This takes 10 days.
Jan. 27: My mom's friend dies. This deals a blow to her spirit I cannot describe.
Feb. 7: Tests show my mother's lymphoma is gone. Now she just has to finish up her chemo.
Feb. 22: We celebrate my mother's birthday at a local restaurant. She walks with a cane and has lost 3 1/2 inches of height. She can only eat a small amount of her cake.
Mom's last test still showed no cancer. She has physical therapy to get her strength back. She no longer needs the cane. Her hair is starting to return. She is looking forward to camping this summer. And focusing her attention on being our mama bear again.
Renee Tanner is a News-Review page designer. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @ReneeTanner_pnr on Twitter.