I was at work the day I received the call. That’s odd, I thought, Mum doesn’t usually ring me here. Well, she doesn’t unless something is wrong.
When Mum started to speak, her words were jumbled and rushed but three clearly stood out. Cancer, tumours and brain. And she was crying. We aren’t a family who cries. Yet there I was crying too, at work, while also trying to remain calm. What a shitty way to hear your mother has cancer. But really, is there a better way to find out?
Hindsight is 20/20. I’ve begun to really despise that phrase.
My biggest mistake in the lead-up to my mother's diagnosis was to ignore major changes in her behaviour. My defence, if I have one, is that at 76 years of age Mum lived alone and had always been quite the "Mrs Mangel" or busybody of her street. She knew the goings on of each and every neighbour within a 500m radius. So when she started to say that people were outside her window at night and throwing rocks on her roof, we were concerned, but not alarmed. My brother, who is a policeman, filed a police report, which revealed nothing.
Next, Mum started to get impatient with my children for little no reason, and told me a 'big white fluffy cat' was jumping on her security screens at night and "making a hell of a racket". I put her change in behaviour down to a number of things: age, the fact that my children were getting older and less obliging, a cat really could be terrorising her as she described; I honestly just thought it was her age and an understandable growing sense of impatience.
Mum was babysitting my 18-month-old son, Jack, for a day a week when I found her blood pressure and cholesterol medication within easy reach of his little hands. I'm ashamed to say my first instinct wasn’t to ask her if she was finding it difficult looking after Jack, instead I asked the childcare centre if they had more availability. Suffering from macular degeneration, her eyesight was down to basically half an eye and Jack is a mini tornado on legs. It seemed like a good time to take him off her hands.
Mum adored looking after Jack and begged me not to put him in childcare, and said that looking after him was the highlight of her week. So, on the day she babysat him, I scoped out the house for pills, boiling hot drinks and pins and humbly requested that the universe return him to me in one piece.
But the phone call changed all that.
The weekend before that despairing call, I received a text from my brother to ask if I had spoken to Mum, and “was her hand any better”. Her hand not being okay in the first place was news to me. Apparently, she couldn't use her right hand to sign her signature. Mum had failed to mention this to me, despite seeing me not 24 hours before.
Fearing she’d had a stroke I drove around to her house but she was quick to assure me it was nothing and was good as gold. “I have my regular appointment with my doctor on Tuesday, I’ll bring it up with him then”. Why didn’t I do something?
Also, why I didn’t put together her erratic behaviour of some weeks before. I had taken Mum to do her grocery shopping and she had stood in the middle of the produce section of the supermarket and without warning or warrant, barked at me “How much are the avocados?” I asked an employee and told Mum. She spun around on the spot, stopped and asked me how much the avocados were. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t cotton on. Jack was screaming, I was tired and Mum seemed to be playing silly buggers in the middle of Woolworths.