Recovering Together: An Ailing Mother Comes to the Aid of Her Son
By Roberta Rachel Omin
“I have a ‘mother’ concern, Dr. Bromberg.”
My oncologist and I were sitting in her office at the Breast Center of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital, where we’d just covered all the details of my upcoming chemotherapy treatment. It was late, 9:30 p.m., and I had her undivided attention. “My son is having open-heart surgery in May for a congenital heart defect,” I said. “I have to work out my chemo schedule so I can be with him in St. Louis.”
“Absolutely,” she said.
My 31-year-old son, Dave, had assured me he wouldn’t need his dad or me to be with him during his hospitalization: his friends would help with picking up food and anything else he needed. While his dad bought into the “I’ll be fine” line, there was no way I would. How could the two of them believe that Dave wouldn’t need his parents? I was going.
Finally, he relented. “You can come, Moo, but only to give me emotional support.” Then, as the date drew closer, he asked if I’d also walk and feed his black pug, Izzy. It seemed like a good sign.
Four months earlier, while I’d been fervently researching treatment for my breast cancer, Dave had been doing the same for his condition. A month after that, he’d called to break the news: “Moo, be calm. My cardiologist told me I need heart surgery again to replace my aortic valve.” Oh, God! Dave needs me to be calm, and I’m scheduled to have a mastectomy next month. For his sake, I mimicked serenity. Underneath, my heart was breaking, and his had to be fixed.
Dave’s valve had been repaired 12 years ago, when he was just 19. Now it had to be replaced. His surgery was scheduled just one week after his MBA graduation from Washington University. My husband, Terry, and I happily celebrated Dave’s graduation and enjoyed the accompanying festivities. Then I hightailed it back to New York City for my own cancer treatment.
On Tuesday, the day before Dave’s procedure, I had my eighth of twelve chemo infusions at Sloan-Kettering, followed by a one-hour nap. I was still hazy and in slow motion from Benadryl when my husband gently shook me awake and hurried me to the airport for my return flight to St. Louis.
On Wednesday morning, Dave and I walked from his apartment down Euclid Avenue, through the lively neighborhood of Einstein Bagels, cafes, and the smoothie shop to the enormous enclave of Barnes-Jewish Hospital. He was admitted for a presurgery cardiac catheterization, to be followed by open-heart surgery the next morning. Dave was outwardly calm. I mirrored him.
The following morning, I arrived at the hospital before dawn as Dave was being prepped. Exhausted by chemo, nerves, and lack of sleep, I stretched out across the waiting-room chairs and prayed that my son would be healthy again. His surgeon called around noon to tell me that all had gone as expected. Immediately I was energized, and for the first time in weeks, I could take a full breath. I couldn’t wait to see him.
This was a far cry from the “warrior” and “worrier” parts of me that had been activated when Dave was first diagnosed with aortic insufficiency at the age of 8 and later when he had his first open-heart surgery. The type of surgery Dave had then and was having now is serious, requiring doctors to put him on a heart-lung machine, crack open his sternum, and perform a delicate operation. Back then, in my anxiety, I informed his surgeon, “No one else is permitted to operate on my son except you.” Dave was mortified, and it stuck with him. It’s safe to say I was better able to manage my feelings this time around.