My Mother, Cancer, and a Bit of Wisdom

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My mother was smart and wise and practical. She had the gift of reducing wisdom to a pithy saying that was easy to remember. Her most powerful saying was really a question.

“What good can we make of this?” It was the all-purpose question for every situation.

She lived by it. Mom was diagnosed with lymphoma in the late Sixties. Her doctor put her on some of the first of the chemotherapy treatments.

It was simply awful. Her hair fell out. Her energy was siphoned off to an alternative universe. There were blood transfusions and hospital stays.

She answered her favorite question by keeping a diary of the effects of the chemo. She noted what she ate and how she slept and how she felt. She sent her doctor the notes she took, so he could use them to help others.

The doctors told her she had six months to live. She told them she wasn’t done yet. And she told the doctor that there were some things she wouldn’t change.

He said, “No alcohol.” She refused to give up her evening drink. She refused to give up drinking in social situations. “Cancer’s going to kill me,” she told me once, “but it won’t beat me. I’m going to laugh and enjoy life all the way to the end.”

She always had a purpose for living. She had something positive to do every day. And she kept finding reasons to laugh.

The six months eventually stretched out to fourteen years. When she died, she was in the middle of a book, with airline tickets for a trip to Europe in her purse.

About halfway through the fourteen years, she and my dad went to visit friends who lived in Barcelona. They were dining and drinking and talking at about 2 AM, when Glenn, their host, started talking about his motorcycle.

“I’ve never ridden on a motorcycle,” my mother said. Glenn said they could go for a ride in the morning.

“Let’s go now,” my mother said. “I’ve got cancer. There’s no time to lose!”

And so Glenn set off on his motorcycle in early morning Barcelona with my mom riding pillion. My dad swore that you could track their progress around the city just by listening to my mother’s laughter and whoops of joy.

Boss’s Bottom Line

No matter what the situation, “What good can we make of this?” is a good place to start.

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