Although asked with the best intentions, I hate that question and don’t know how to answer it.
You see, she has cancer. Of the colon. Diagnosed last August, she went straight to surgery where they removed forty centimeters of her colon and fifteen lymph nodes, one of which didn’t look so good so they prescribed her eight rounds of chemo. She’s now going through the sixth.
So, how is she doing? I usually answer “not too bad” or “pretty good” but that’s bullshit.
What defines “good” if you have cancer anyway?
There are a lot of people doing far worse than she is. My mother is, unless things really turn to crap, not going to die. I guess that’s good. She’s also not losing all of her hair or splattering vomit all over the place. I guess that’s good too. In fact you don’t even see that’s she’s really sick if you don’t know her. She looks like any other middle-aged woman. A bit tired perhaps, but that’s normal these days.
That’s why I answer that she’s not too bad. Or maybe even pretty good, if I want the conversation to end quickly and I’m not in the mood for hugs or I-feel-sorry-for-you-looks (thanks anyway, most of the times I do appreciate them). When you think of how bad it could have been, she might even consider herself lucky.
Fact is. She’s not. It still sucks. Big time. She is so tired that she can plan one activity per day (a visit, a very short walk around town with lots of breaks in between for her to sit down). She can’t even read a book because the letters just dance in front of her eyes. I suggested she started knitting. You see, she used to knit when we were kids and now it’s all fashionable again to have knitted furniture. So my mum started knitting furniture. First pillows. Then a stool. A vase. And then I came home from work one day and found my mother crying on the sofa. Knitting needles in hand. Between sobs she told me she knitted little socks for the feet of our chairs because they make so much noise when somebody moves them.
Who on earth knits socks for chairs? She cried. No one in their right mind would do that!
People who can’t do anything else. They knit socks for chairs.
And it broke my heart. Just like it breaks my heart when she drops a bowl of ice cream because the nerves in her fingertips are all fucked up and she can’t touch anything cold. Or when she starts crying because she’s just too tired of it all. Or barely can swallow the zillion pills she has to take. Or when she sneaked outside for a cigarette, hiding from us that she started smoking again (the hiding part was the saddest, not the smoking part). Most of the time she’s not doing well at all.
That’s why I don’t know how to answer that question. Do people want to hear that she’s doing OK because at least she’s not going to die anytime soon? Or do want people to hear the truth about how it gets just a little bit worse and harder every day?