It’s 3:00 pm in the afternoon and I’m not at work; that’s a shock! I’ve been working for most of my 38 years and for the most part enjoyed every minute. But today, I find myself sitting in class at arguably the premier medical institution in the world, Johns Hopkins Hospital. I’m learning about stem cells, bone marrow, and various terminology like IPOP and HIPOP that when spoken in this environment connotes a since of allegiance or identity. Heretofore I assumed I had a fairly decent grasp and working knowledge of cancer, the disease. I’m what most people would term educated. I received a four-year college degree from a reputable university and obtained a Master’s in Public Health. But yet, it’s 3:15 pm now and I’m taking copious notes. Like preparing for a major test. I’m asking question after question in this intimate setting. The class was held in this small conference room, just enough chairs around the conference table to touch elbows with the seven other people in the room.
I’m looking at the PowerPoint presentation, listening to the presenter, stopping her each time I have a burning question. In my mind I have this one and only opportunity to get an “A”. Right now this class is all that matters. This class is providing the strategy I need to deploy to fight cancer. Not for me… but for my Mom, my mother, my example of a Christian woman, my pray warrior, my caregiver, my teacher, my encourager, my “…@#!*! What did you say about my mother” My first lady. For some unexplained reason cancer decided to attack my family unit and to the one person that is always there for everyone else, the rock. So here I sit writing, thinking, asking, learning, and looking. I’d looked at my mom every chance I got. Not to determine if she had a glaze of devastation, but to see that look. The look, the look that I had grown keen to admiring since I was a child living in Southeast, DC.
As I looked at my mother out the corner of my eyes, while, the presenter was talking about chemotherapy and its side effects; I noticed something that was utterly amazing to me. My mom still had the look. The look that said everything was going to be all right. The look that speaks life to a trouble situation. The look that the entire senior mothers in the church would bestow upon the next generation of mothers. The look that said, “By His strips I’m healed…the look that told me over and over again, “No weapon formed against you shall prosper.” It’s a look of quite resolve. As my quick glance became a stare, I realized that my mom was looking right at me. She starred at me with the same reassurance, resolve, peace, and faith that guided me as a child, a young man, a husband, a father, and now in my new role as a parental caregiver.
In the small conference room sitting across the table from me was my a segment of my mom’s support system, her honey (my stepfather), her sister (my aunt), her best friend (my play aunt), and her mother (my grandmother). We all were grasping with this new challenge in our lives. The other three people in the room weren’t family but after the two-hour session, we all were connected and shared life experiences. The nurse practitioner explained that she too dealt with cancer with her own mother and the toll it take on her daily life. The other to individuals was a husband and wife team. He has cancer for the second time. His wife explained the ups and downs throughout the process and became an invaluable impromptu teacher during the session.
We had about two weeks left until the “big day”, all I wanted to do was make certain my mom was comfortable, that she had everything she needed. The next step was a “minor” surgical procedure to insert the catheter for the chemotherapy. My mother, like most mothers, has said for many years that she wanted a family portrait. Until now it seemed like a mere suggestion at best. Today, at this moment, it was the most important task I needed to accomplish. We did, mom was happy. What’s next? I run through my list of things to do from making certain the family had flu shots to updating her life insurance policy, to figuring out how to tell my kids that Nana may look a little different.
In every family there’s a sibling who responsible for tasks like these. In my family, I’m that person. I’m not an only child but I’m the one that handles these affairs. My sister lives out of town and my older brother has other roles in responsibilities to handle. I’m not the oldest, in fact I’m the youngest, but it’s the role I play in my family unit. Since I can recall my family says that I have been old since I was born.
I’m 38 years old. As part of my upbringing having senior members of my family live with their children was common. My great grandmother shared dwellings with both her son and daughter. In fact, I recall that as a child my great aunt served as the family home daycare provider. My cousins, sister and I would have to turn off the television for an hour during Sesame Street while granny prayed and had devotional time. We had to sit still for an hour, quiet or we would be in trouble. Granny prayed, sang old gospel songs like “His Eyes Is on the Sparrow”, and then greeted each of us with a hug and kiss.
Taking care of loved ones is difficult at times but rewarding. It’s part of the African American culture. I have friends that are starting to assume this role as well. I always know that this was expected and needed. But it’s something that no one is ever ready for and I didn’t expect this at my age. For the last four years my wife and I have been taking care of her parents, both in their late seventies. Last year we thought it was best to move under one roof. The benefit for exceeds any perceived drawbacks. I have three boys and the wisdom, quality time, and support they provide is priceless. Not to mention when I get home from work, there’s always a plate in the microwave waiting for me. They are the best babysitters, when my wife and I need a break they step right in.
Children’s taking care of their parents is part of who we are as a people. The question that’s floating in my head is who will take care of the grandparents who are raising their grandchildren? They are second go around parents at a time when they should be enjoying their lives and having their children take care of them. I’m fortunate to have the support system of family members to assist with my mother’s care. It’s a privilege to care for a parent that has provided for you. The big day is here, chemotherapy all day 7:00 am to 7:00 pm at IPOP. Acts 20…I continue.