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The Christmas Tree

My mother loved Christmas time, she always bought so many decorations every year. She just LOVED shopping and Christmas was her favorite time of year to shop. I have so many decorations that she bought me over the years. I am grateful for her love of Christmas because over the years, I would get caught up on the spending money I didn't have to buy and give. Mom would always bring me out of that and we would bake cookies, eat treats, do crafts and enjoy the season with family. So it is kind of ironic that the memories I have around her illness and death are at Christmas time.

Mom was diagnosed with colo-rectal cancer in October 2015, she was misdiagnosed with IBS many months prior to this and when she finally had a scope due to the severity of her symptoms, they found a tumour almost completely blocking her colon. She had recently retired from a 40 year nursing career in the Northern part of Manitoba where she was from and moved in with me and my family in the Cariboo region of BC. I had promised her after all the years of her caring for me that I would gladly care for her in her retirement years, I didn't realize how much care she would need in the coming years at the time but I knew I would be there for her.

That December, she had to go the cancer clinic several hours from where we lived and I just started a new job so my brother, Scott from Nova Scotia came to BC to stay with her for her radiation treatments. He was running his own business at the time and although challenging to leave his family for 6 weeks, gladly offered to come. They rented a furnished condo in Abbotsford just a few blocks from the cancer clinic and went daily to her radiation appointments, which she called "zaps". It was Christmas time, so when they weren't at the clinic getting zaps, they did alot of window shopping and picking up decorations for the condo. That's when Mom bought this white Christmas tree. It's just 4 feet tall but she proudly put it up and decorated it with some beautiful ornaments and colorful garland. She had always wanted a white Christmas tree so now, she finally had one. At the end of her treatment, she packed it up and brought it home to my house. We tucked it away with all the rest of our Christmas decor and promptly forgot about it for another year.

The radiation was successful in reducing the tumour in her colon to a size they could remove it safely and in February, they surgically removed it. Once she was healed, she carried on with her chemotherapy; two weeks on and one week off until July 2015. All tests came back negative for cancer and we were all relieved it had gone into remission. Mom had an ostomy bag that they were unable to reverse with the removal of the tumour but she carried on living her life as best she could with it, she always said "Oh well, at least I am alive". She was always so positive and hopeful.

She spent the next year travelling around as much as she could, visiting old friends and relatives in Nova Scotia and Manitoba. Mom really had a new lease on life and wanted to make sure she saw everyone she could on her travels because everyone in her life was so special to her. So she was away that first Christmas but I still brought out her tree and put it away as the Christmas season passed once again. Mom returned to my home in May 2017, just in time for Clayton and I to go on our honeymoon. We decided on an Alaskan Cruise and were so excited to go away for a week. Mom stayed with the kids and some friends of ours who we consider family while we were away. It was a beautiful trip.

When we returned, it was business as usual. Clayton and I worked, the kids went to school and Mom would hang with Chase and bring him to school for Strong Start once in a while. In June 2017, Mom went for some bloodwork as a typical post-cancer patient follow up. The doctor had some concerns about an abnormal test and wanted to send Mom for a CT scan of her abdomen. Mom didn't seem too worried about it but I know now that she just never wanted me to worry about her. Unfortunately, wildfires started in our area, towns were getting evacuated and her CT that was scheduled in Williams Lake was postponed. It grew very smokey and there were alot of unknowns about everything everyday so Mom decided she should go stay in Manitoba until things calmed down. I drove her down to the Abbotsford airport and off she went to my brother's in Winnipeg. The fires burned on for months.

At the end of August, her testing was rescheduled as towns slowly began reopening. Mom was due to return on September 18, 2017 and her test was in Kamloops on September 22. When she arrived home, she told me that she was forgetting some of her Cree language. We thought this was odd since she had been fluent in her language since she was a little girl and never once forgot how to speak it over the years. Then, I noticed that she was not able to remember some english words either. I took her to the doctor right away because I was worried she had a stroke. The doctor was able to arrange for her to have a CT scan of her head, ultrasound of her neck and appointment with a neurologist all on the same day of her abdominal CT in a few days.

We travelled to Kamloops that day hoping for the best, we joked and laughed all the way there. She told me lots of stories of her travels and caught me up on all the happenings in our extended family. By that afternoon, we were given the news that I will never ever forget. Mom's cancer had returned with a vengeance and had already metastasised to her brain, lungs, liver and original tumour site. We were devastated to hear this news, yet Mom kept a smile on her face and was so polite to the doctor. When he disappeared off the screen, we cried in each other's arms. I knew at that moment, that she was going to leave me and we didn't have much time.

By December, we had to move her into the palliative care suite at Fischer Place in 100 Mile House. It is a seniors care facility with a suite at the end of one of the wings reserved for palliative patients. We struggled to admit we needed this help but she had been in the hospital for a couple weeks with her last chemo treatment and her legs slowly became immobile. She was having a really tough time at home getting to the bathroom and these kinds of things. Mom needed more care than I could provide and as much as we wanted to keep her at home, we agreed it wasn't safe. We also agreed that she could come home for Christmas. My brothers and their families were planning a trip to BC for Christmas and she was excited about that. I decorated her room, complete with her white Christmas tree. I visited her everyday, we cuddled and watched the news or family feud together. She would ask me to bring her different treats and food that she wouldn't eat but I would bring it anyway. There was an influenza outbreak on the floor during this time so we had to wear masks but Mom never got the flu, I managed to catch it though on December 23. Mom texted me, "Lolly are you coming to get me today?" on Christmas eve, I was so sick on the couch and had to say no... she said it was okay but I felt so awful to say no. I sent my brother Chris and my son David in to visit her so she wasn't alone on Christmas eve. They visited her on Christmas day as well because I was still sick. On boxing day, Mom texted me, "Lolly are you coming to get me today?" and I could not say no so I went to get her. She had a wonderful day, it was sunny and we drove home in the snow. My brother and husband carried her into the house and put her in her chair. She visited all day and evening in between naps with everyone that was there. It felt good to have her in the house.

This was Mom just a few hours before being transported back to the hospital. She was waiting patiently for my brother, Scott to arrive from Nova Scotia. They had been delayed in Halifax and arriving in Vancouver a day after they planned. She had a really good night that night but on this day, her breathing started to get harder for her and this made her panicky. I did everything in my power to calm her down, I had been given all her medications and a nebulizer to bring home in case she needs medicine in her lungs. So, I was giving her everything I could within the amounts I was allowed to, she was able to calm down enough to have a rest but when she woke and visited with my brother for a little while, she started to get panicky again about her breathing. Very clearly, I remember her saying, "Lolly, I love you" in a scared voice. I told her I loved her so much too. We ended up calling an ambulance to come help us, we thought maybe they could give her some oxygen and she could stay home a while longer but they decided to bring her to the hospital. My brother, Scott, went with her. I decided to stay home for the rest of the night. Isn't she beautiful? You would never guess the pain and suffering she was in from this picture.

When I woke up in the morning, I got ready and headed into the hospital. I found my Mom and my brother in the ER. I asked the nurse why they were still in the ER and not back up in her palliative care suite in Fischer Place. She told me that they weren't accepting her at the moment because of the influenza outbreak. She was sedated but Scott said that she spoke Cree and reached her arms up to the sky all night. She knew I was there, she would come to a little bit and we would talk for a second. I went upstairs to Fischer Place and asked the manager to do whatever she could do to get her back upstairs. She was already there during the outbreak, if she had influenza she got it from there so why weren't they letting her back up. It was out of the managers hands but said she had a call in the next few hours with the higher ups. I forget the time she said, I believe it was 11am. So I asked the ER nurse to call them at 11am. It was busy, the nurse called and called every 15 minutes and it continued to be busy. I was getting so frustrated that I had to leave the hospital for a bit. I went to Tim Hortons and when I returned they were bringing her back upstairs. We were so happy. I was so happy.

We sat with her for a few hours before heading home for the night, she was kind of in and out of it. It is hard to relive the memories of the next couple days so that I will save for another post.

I put her white Christmas tree up this past Christmas, I decorated it the way she would have liked it. I put her picture beside it and I turned on the lights. It was beautiful and I cried. Christmas came and went, and I wasn't ready to take it down yet. New years came and went, it was still up. I unplugged the lights. I took down all the other decorations and put them away. I put the box beside Mom's tree to put hers away. Valentine's day came and went, her tree was still up. Every time I went to take it down, I just couldn't do it. St. Paddy's day, then Easter... and then one day when it was almost May. I took it down. I cried the whole time, yet I found it so silly to be crying about, it made me sad to put it away. But, I managed to pull myself together and realize, I can put it right back up in a few short months. It carries a lot of hard memories but we are so blessed to have had such an amazing woman to raise us that anything she touched, meant so very much.

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