My Mother, My Novel, and Me

From Publishers Weekly:

The first time my mom was diagnosed with cancer, I was writing a novel about immortality. She had gone to the doctor after discovering a sizable lump on the side of her stomach. A biopsy revealed the worst possible news: colon cancer. They could remove the lump surgically, but given its size, the doctors suspected it might be too late.

I could not imagine the world without my mom. I told myself she would beat this. My mom had always defied the odds. Born Black and poor to illiterate parents in the South during Jim Crow, she was the only member of her immediate family who graduated from high school. She then earned a full scholarship to college and became a teacher, effectively pulling herself out of poverty and raising me in a safe, middle-class community. She was the toughest person I knew.

My mom’s surgery went well, and the pathology report was better than expected: with the tumor removed, there was no cancer in her body. It felt significant, somehow, that I was writing a novel about immortality and my mom had staved off death, as though the novel was a good luck charm or talisman. I poured everything I had into the book, thanking it for its role in saving my mom.

Two years later, the cancer returned. It had spread to my mom’s stomach. The doctors suggested palliative chemo; they could stop the cancer from spreading to buy her time, but they could not cure her.

But my mom decided not to undergo chemo. Instead of five years, she would have maybe two and a half. I couldn’t accept this, and for the next several months my mom and I fought constantly. I cried. I begged. I guilt-tripped. I made rational arguments and emotional appeals. Nothing would sway her.

With my mom’s diagnosis, finding a publisher for my novel felt more urgent. Her fate and the novel’s had become inextricably linked in my mind—if one made it, the other would, too. I began sending the novel out to a series of independent presses, desperate to find a home for it quickly.

In my novel, immortality comes about suddenly, abruptly changing the fates of people who had previously been diagnosed with terminal diseases. While I didn’t believe immortality was around the corner in real life, I saw articles about new experimental treatments that were extending lives or curing some forms of cancer.

I redoubled my efforts to convince my mom to get chemo, but she was unyielding. She was completely asymptomatic and knew that chemo could come with side effects that would lower her quality of life. Eventually, I realized I had to respect my mom’s wishes—lest I lose her long before she died.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

1 thought on “My Mother, My Novel, and Me”

  1. Lest we lose them long before they died, let us cherish every moment, every smile, every shared breath. Let us nurture the bond of love that unites us, for it is a bond that will endure, even in the face of death. And when the inevitable day arrives, let us carry their memory with grace and gratitude, knowing that their love will forever shine brightly in our hearts.

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