Last summer, on Mother’s Day, I watched an episode of Battlestar Galactica and then wrote this. I never intended to share it with anyone, but I just saw the BSG Series Finale and was reminded of this.
My mom was diagnosed with breast and liver cancer in November 2003, when i was a Junior in high school. The doctors originally estimated that she would only survive for a couple of months. She started chemotherapy and radiation treatment. She got really sick. She wouldn’t leave her bed for days at a time. Her hair fell out. She would joke that when her hair grew back in, she would make sure that her right eyebrow came in straight, since she had been annoyed at how crooked it was her entire life.
Slowly, my mother’s condition improved. A year later, my mother went to get a scan to gauge the status of the cancer. When her doctor came back into the waiting room with her test results, he was crying. “Julie,” he said. “Are you a woman of faith? Because there is no logical explanation for what I am about to tell you. Your cancer is gone.”
I remember the day my dad told me my mom was all better. I remember closing my eyes and feeling all the pain of the last year rushing out of me. I breathed my first confident breath in 12 months. I cried openly. I was only 19 years old. I was too young to lose the person in the whole world who loved me the most. My mom was OK.
Another year went by. We were thankful for the time we had with Mom. She was happy and active. She had regular checkups, but her doctor said she was in complete remission. We went on vacations together. We took family pictures. Mom’s eyebrow grew in straight. All was well.
New Years, 2006. I was living in my first apartment with some of my best friends in the whole world, when my dad told me that my mom’s latest biopsy had come back positive. Her cancer was back. I moved back in with my family as we braced ourselves for the bad news.
Mom’s cancer had spread from her liver and breast to her lymphatic system, her brain, and her pelvis. Her body was riddled with tumors. Where she was once given two months to survive, she was now estimated to be gone in a matter of days.
Of course, my Mom knew how to fight. She began anew the cancer treatments that she so vehemently hated. Her hair fell out again, and came back in gray. She lost a lot of weight. She became too weak to hold herself up, and we had to get her a wheelchair. Her skin slowly gained a yellow hue as her liver became weaker and she became jaundiced. Months went by. Despite her worsening outward appearance, her doctor’s assured us that the treatments were helping, though it was too soon to tell if Mom would ever get better.
In August of 2006, I went away to college. Mom came with us to help me move into my new apartment on the other side of the state. After we had moved my furniture in, I hugged my family and said goodbye at the door. The moment the door closed, I pressed my eye to the peephole. I watched as my mom walked slowly down the hall holding onto my Dad’s arm. She could barely walk, but she wanted more than anything to be there and show her support when I started my education. At the end of the hall, she turned around slowly. I knew she couldn’t see me through the peephole. She looked straight at me through the door, smiled, and waved goodbye. Tears welled up in my eyes. I loved her so much. I had been so afraid to commit to going away to school when my family was going through such a trying time, but my mom had reassured me that my education was important and I should commit to it. That was the last time I ever saw my mom strong enough to even lift her own head off the pillow.
Two months later, only two months into my first semester, my dad called and told me Mom had taken a turn for the worse. When I asked him how bad it was, he told me I should tell my professors I needed a week off, pack my suit, and come home. I picked up my sister from her university on the way and we went home.
It was the worst time of my life. Mom’s family drove up from Texas to be with her, but our house was too small for all the people. We grated on each other’s nerves, which aggravated Mom. When confronted with the stress of the situation, my natural reaction was to distance myself from it. I barricaded myself in my room for hours on end, unable to bring myself to face my crumbling family.
At about 12:15 in the morning on November 11, 2006, my Dad shook me awake, sobbing. “Your mom is gone.” he said.
In books, they talk about seeing peace in the face of the dead. My mother was surrounded by the people who loved her the most, and had been given nothing but the kindest of care by her hospice nurses. But when I looked at my mom’s body that night, I saw only pain. She did not die happy. She was miserable. Her body ate itself up from the inside. She suffered in pain for four long years before the cancer inside her consumed her. Though her sister and husband held her hand to the very end, my mom died alone. No one felt what she felt. She bore it on her own to the very end, and she was broken.
It was the darkest time of my life. I retreated into myself. I consumed my time with meaningless hobbies. Time with my friends was spent in awkwardness. I could tell they wanted to help me, but I was too apathetic to look for help.
A month later, I went back to school. I had a lot of trouble focusing on anything important, and I ended up watching a lot of TV. Amidst the meaningless TV shows I committed so much time to, I began to watch the remake of Battlestar Galactica. By that time the show was approaching the end of its second season.
I immediately noticed a strong physical resemblance between my mother and the character of President Laura Roslin, played by Mary MacDonnell. Both women shared the same pointed chin and sweeping jaw line. It was a curiosity that bound me to the show in a very subconscious way. I found myself sincerely invested in Roslin’s well-being, if only because she so strongly resembled someone I loved.
As the show progressed, Roslin’s character contracted cancer. I was stunned to see the strength I had always respected in my mother again personified in the character of President Roslin. Roslin fought off her cancer through unconventional means (similar to the numerous experimental drugs contributing to my mother’s initial remission), and an unwavering faith in her religion (my mother had been a devout Christian her entire life, and her cancer did nothing but strengthen her belief).
Like my mother, Roslin eventually went into remission, only to be diagnosed again with the fatal ailment later. This time, the disease came in force. Recently, Roslin’s hair fell out and I was again shaken by how similar the debilitated Roslin looked to my own ill mother.
When my mom was sick, she would take a weekly trip to the Chemotherapy Clinic. Sometimes I would drive her, but I was always too scared to sit with her. The building made me physically ill. I have always had an aversion to hospitals. She once told me that the Cancer Ward was her Mission Field. She would remind me that where we are weakest, God is strongest. Even though I didn’t share her religious sentiments, I could certain respect that it is when we are at our most vulnerable that we are most susceptible to an emotional change. She said that when she was receiving her chemotherapy and was surrounded by all the sick and dying people, she would take that opportunity to minister to the people around her, and to do her best to personify the love of her Savior to the people around her.
I was on a business trip last week, so I didn’t see the newest episode of Battlestar Galactica until Sunday – Mothers’ Day. In this past week on Battlestar Galactica, President Roslin’s cancer has forced her to take regular chemotherapy treatments in a cancer ward. It is there that Roslin encounters and befriends a woman named Emily. Emily is suffering from a much farther progressed cancer and is likely going to die soon.
As I watched Roslin sit with Emily and discuss what awaited them after death, I began to cry. I had never had the bravery to accompany my mom to the place where she felt she had accomplished so much. I had been crippled by my own fear, and had missed out on seeing my mom in the place she felt the most valuable. Seeing Laura Roslin pronounce her faith in no uncertain terms was like hearing my mother telling those other cancer patients about how sure she was about what awaited her after she died. It was like having my mother back one last time, telling me about what she loved the most.
I can never thank these people enough. Mary MacDonnell for portraying such a beautiful character, and the producers and directors of the show for committing to such a breathtaking work of art. However anyone else feels about Battlestar Galactica, or religion, or Mothers’ Day, I had a genuine loving encounter with my mother this past Sunday, and it would not have been possible without Battlestar Galactica.