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Have It Your Way by:
Don Dunham

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Barfly Tales From The Barstool By: Clint Lien

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In My Opinion
By L.N.P.

So, one day your life is going along as usual, and the next day it gets turned totally upside down. Everything changes during a three minute conversation with a doctor. That's what happened to me and my family last week. It has happened to millions of people, but last week it happened to us.

A little over a week ago, my 77-year old mother turned yellow. She'd been complaining about feeling weak and tired for months, but we all thought it was because she leads such a sedentary life, so we urged her to walk more. She'd been saying her stomach hurt, and that she had constant diarrhea, but we all thought it was because she refused to eat right, and wouldn't do any of the things we recommended to make herself better, so we urged her to eat fiber and take Citrucel. But when her eyes and skin turned a sickly yellow, we all thought she was sick. I took her to the doctor immediately, and the ultrasound revealed a probable gallstone stuck in the tube connecting the gall bladder to the liver, causing the bile to build up in her system. The solution was relatively simple….something called an ERCP, which meant running a tube down her throat, through the intestines, finally reaching the stone, and either blasting it or removing it. Not a big problem.

I took her to the hospital on Monday as the doctors instructed. They didn't perform the procedure until Tuesday, when my daughter and I waited for the results. I remember that we weren't really worried; we were sure she was already on the road to recovery. So, we had lunch, and returned to the waiting room. I know that the gastro-interologist came out after about an hour or so, and started talking to us about the tumor they had found. I remember asking what they were going to do about it, and him saying something about the fact that they couldn't do anything, and that there was no way to treat it. Mostly, though, I remember the shock, and my daughter and I holding onto each other. We had been expecting good news.

Then everything started happening too quickly. My mother was already out of recovery and back in her room before we had even begun to adjust. She was feeling very positive, extremely upbeat. All we could tell her was that they had put a stent in her so that her bile would start flowing properly, which was true. We didn't tell her it wouldn't last very long. We couldn't stand to ruin her good mood. And then the visitors started arriving: my brother, my son and his fiancé, my girlfriend. For awhile, when my daughter had to leave and my brother and I were there alone, we just sort of clung to some hope; after all, they hadn't done the CAT scan yet, we hadn't spoken to the surgeon, or the oncologist. Then, just as my brother was leaving, the surgeon talked to us in the hallway. He made it definite. He had the CT results. He said she had pancreatic cancer that had metastasized to the liver. He said she had months to live.

Everyone "lost" it at some point or the other: me, my husband, my brother, my son. But the hardest, I think, was telling my daughter, who had returned home. I will never forget her screaming "Nooooooooo" into the phone and then crying hysterically, uncontrollably. And through it all, I took these calls in the hall, or in the Women's Room, because everyone was keeping up the pretense, trying to seem cheerful and chatting with my mom.

That night the family met at my house and grieved, planned, talked, phoned, and prayed for wisdom. I was the only one who didn't think she should be told. I thought we could protect her. I thought she couldn't handle it, that she'd crumble. I couldn't imagine telling her, but everyone else was convinced that she had to know. My husband said it was her right as a human being to know. My uncle told me that she'd surprise me, that she'd rise to the occasion. I guessI was the one who was crumbling. But, of course, I was also the one who wound up telling her.

I went to the hospital the next morning and met her doctor in the hallway. We went in together and he told her the diagnosis. She didn't flinch, just turned to me and asked, "Does this mean I'm going to die?" I sobbed in her arms, and from that point on she has, indeed, surprised the hell out of me. There must be something that clicks on when a person is given that kind of devastating news, some transcendent switch that changes an ordinary person into a person who can accept their fate calmly, with dignity. Or at least that's what happened with my mother.

The rest of the week went by in a blur of frantic activity. Basically, the whole family pitched in and packed up her entire apartment (no small task considering that my mother is not only a compulsive shopper but also a pack rat) ordered a van, moved all her extremely heavy furniture into our house, and surrounded her with the things she loves. But much more importantly, she is also surrounded by the people she loves, and the ones who love her. It's exhausting. It's demanding. There are moments when I don't know how I'll manage. I have a full-time job that already stretched me thin, and now another one. I have a marriage that means the world to me, and that I refuse to neglect. I have my family, my friends, my dogs and cat. I have my own body to take care of, and my own mind to keep sane.

But I also have an incredible gift. I can do this thing for my mother. I can do her laundry and fold her socks. I can bring her ice water and cook her meals. I can wash her hair, and answer her questions, and drive her to the doctor's office. I can hold her hand, and take her temperature, and test her blood sugar, and when the time comes, I can ease her pain. I can do all of this, drained, aching, tired, and thanking God that I have this amazing opportunity. How many of us get to demonstrate our love in both huge and trivial ways? How many, instead, have to live with guilt and regret. But I was given this gift; I can live the rest of my life with the serenity that I have done everything in my power to fill her days with contentment and peace. She will die, but she will die knowing that she was loved. I will love my mother to death.

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