Fact: As with many babies, it is impossible for Juilen to look directly at the camera when you want him to....

I never expected to be writing this, for so many reasons.


For one, I feel embarrassed in a way, stripping myself bare and asking for help.  But this is an unusual situation.  A blessing and a struggle.


For another, the thing is, I didn’t know my mother would still be alive.


When her symptoms started, she didn’t say anything to anyone.  But after a few months, we realized something was terribly wrong.  She’d lost so much weight, wasn’t eating, and had a strange pallor to her.  This strong woman, who’d spent years working out and race-walking, whose job as a vet tech involved lifting heavy dogs onto operating tables, this woman who was stronger than me, was suddenly hunched over.  She limped when she walked.


She came to visit us in Paris.  Hills were agony for her.  I found myself frustrated – all my life, my mother had never complained, never shown any signs of suffering from anything.  I wasn’t used to this, I guess, and inwardly I reacted like a confused child, instead of an observant adult.


My mom had always seemed sort of invincible. She’d gone through rough things, but she’d always survived.  She was the one saving lives, whether animals, or people.  When one of my aunts needed a kidney transplant, the minute my mother found out she was a match, she didn’t hesitate. 


She always had an innate understanding of medical things.  Once when I was staying with her for a few weeks, I sliced my finger so badly with a knife that I probably should have gone to the emergency room for stitches.  But my needle phobia made me terrified to go.  So my mother nursed me – a twenty-something girl being silly, really – back to health.  Every morning before work, when it was still dark outside, she’d knock on my door and change the dressings on my finger.  Every evening when she came home, exhausted, she did the same.  She never made me feel bad, never questioned my choices.


But I questioned hers.  After seeing her struggle on those Parisian hills, I forced her to go to my doctor, even though she was far more terrified than I’d been.


My doctor doesn’t speak English, so I had to be the interpreter. I discreetly turned my back as he asked her to take off her shirt and bra.  When she got dressed again, I turned around and saw him shaking his head.


“Why did she wait so long?!” he asked me in French.  I knew it was really bad.


He ordered her to get an emergency mammogram, which only confirmed what we were so afraid to say: Advanced stage breast cancer, which had possibly spread.


It was a strange visit after that.  Sometimes my mother couldn’t leave the house.  Other times, we went sightseeing (it was her first time in Paris, after all).  There were often moments of hollow fear, even in the midst of so much beauty.  And there were moments of grace.  We sat in the Sacré-Coeur listening to the nuns sing, and Julien didn’t make a single noise, just looked around and smiled.  Afterwards, we walked around the church, and my mother suddenly stopped at the statue of a saint: Sainte Marguerite-Marie, her namesake.  She lit a candle, tears making the flame’s reflection wobble in her eyes.  It was something holy. She felt protected.


She never returned to her home in Georgia.  Instead, we changed her ticket so that she’d go straight to New Jersey, where most of my family lives.  More tests revealed the cancer had started to spread, and that one of her lungs was basically not functioning because it was filled with fluid. My mom was sort of proud of that: “Can you imagine,” she told me, “I had a hard time with those hills because I only had one working lung!”


My mom’s resilience and resistance to pain paid off.  She went through treatment, had good and bad days, and we all hoped she’d be around for at least a little while.


A year later, her doctor was stunned: Despite the advanced stage of her cancer, despite the fact that it had spread, the tumors had shrunk or even disappeared.  She was in remission and, even, according to test results, in excellent health. 


We don’t know if or when the cancer will come back.  Like all people in remission, it’s there, like a bomb inside you. But there does seem to be hope that my mom still has many healthy years ahead of her.


She race-walks every day, but her physical strength is severely diminished.  She still has a slight limp, and she’ll never be able to lift a heavy dog onto an operating table.  But she’s still here, happy, able to enjoy life and see her grandchildren grow.


The only problem is, starting a new life isn’t easy.  My mom left everything she had behind.  She also never had any savings; for all her good qualities, she’s always been strange about money.  All the logic and precision that goes into medicine completely leaves her when it comes to finances.  So she finds herself full of hope, with an unexpected future, but with some major expenses in order to make it happen.


My mom needs a car (hers was in such bad shape that we couldn’t even get it up to New Jersey, and it didn’t sell for much), and help with things like gas money, car insurance, and housing expenses while she gets on her feet.


My family has helped and we continue to help.  But many of us are also struggling.  The boyfriend and I are currently living on a tight budget.  Just before the diagnosis, my sister left her job to start her own business.  My brother and his wife have just found out they’re going to have a baby – great, but somewhat unexpected news that also means they have to tighten their budget.  My aunt and uncle, who housed and cared for my mom, are facing problems of their own, including my aunt’s failing health (a transplanted kidney can apparently only last so long…) and some financial issues. 


We’ve set up a GoFundMe page, and I’m spreading the word.  If you’ve read this far, maybe it means you’re moved by my mom’s story and want to help.  That would be amazing – well, words fail me – it would be more than that.


If you can’t donate, please spread the word.  They say at GoFundMe that one of the key things to do is simply get the news out.  Please feel free to share this link: https://www.gofundme.com/nq69dnp4 on your social media accounts, or pass it along to someone you think might be able to help.


I hate even posting this, since I know a lot of you guys have struggles of your own.  But I’m so full of hope and desperation. And anyway, I have so little to give that I wanted to give what I could, by sharing the page and asking for help.  Thanks for reading, and for anything more you can do.

Views: 393

Comment by Anna Herrington on October 20, 2015 at 9:04am

Hi Alysa, how cool to see a photo! Your mom has a great face  : )  So sorry she's struggling! so many are. You're a good soul to do what you can to help her out. I will send what I can when I can. Best to you all ~

Comment by Zanelle on October 20, 2015 at 9:39am

Thanks for this link and good luck to your mom.  I just read Theodora's post about being thankful for Senior Subsidized Housing where she lives.  I am just barely making it but oh so lucky too.  It is easy to ignore health symptoms and I do that too, tell your mom she inspired me to fix things when they don't feel quite right.  This growing older stuff is tricky  You two look so much alike and Julien is sooooo cute.  

Comment by JMac1949 Today on October 20, 2015 at 10:17am

Read and appreciated.  Like Zanelle, I'm disinclined to seek medical attention and over the past five years, that predilection has twice put me into the hospital with life threatening conditions.  Here's hoping that your Mom recovers and has many years to enjoy the company of young Julien.

Comment by Heidi Banerjee on October 20, 2015 at 10:54am

Alysia, you can count on my support. I have sent this to Facebook.

Comment by Alysa Salzberg on October 20, 2015 at 1:33pm

Thanks for reading and commenting, guys.

Anna - I'm glad you like my mom's face.  That sounds weird to say, but I'm glad someone sees how pretty she still is.  I actually have told her I like her better with short hair - it brings out her bone structure...and sort of makes her look like a professor or something.  I appreciate beyond words your saying that you will send what you can, when you can - if you can't, that is no problem. I just wanted to reach out in case anyone was able to help. Your reading and kind words already mean so much.  

Zanelle - Wow.  I am so glad that my mom's story has inspired you to head to the doctor. I agree it can be so scary, but I feel like in so many cases, finding a problem early on makes it much easier to fix.  I hope you come out with a clean bill of health.  Thank you also for your kind words, and good luck to you with health and hard times.

JMac - Wow.  Yeah, I definitely understand not wanting to get to the doctor when you have a scary symptom, but it can definitely help prevent things getting to an even worse stage.  I'm glad you're all right and I hope you'll be fine from here on out - and if not, I hope you'll get to the doctor's as soon as you can.  Thanks for coming by, and for your kind wishes for my mom.  

Heidi - Thanks so much for spreading the word!  I really appreciate it!

Comment by DaisyJane on October 20, 2015 at 8:05pm

alysa - i am just always happy to see a post from you, even one hard for you to write, like this one.  i am glad your mom made it through to now, and am happy to help in my meager way.  just give me a couple days for logistics.  

and totally unimportant, but you are looking great.

Comment by Jeanne Sathre on October 21, 2015 at 7:39am

Starting over is never easy. I wish her the best. She's lucky to have you there for her.

Comment by Alysa Salzberg on October 21, 2015 at 12:35pm

Daisyjane - Thanks so much for your kind words, and I appreciate your saying you'll donate.  If it's too hard, please don't worry about it - I know what it's like when money is tight.  Thanks for your support, regardless.  And as for me looking great, your comment made me laugh - I hate how I look in that picture, all flushed and a bit heavier than I'd like.  I guess the happiness I felt about being with my mom shines through?

Jeanne - You are so right. Thanks for your good wishes - I will pass them on to her!

Comment by Heidi Banerjee on October 22, 2015 at 2:40am

Alysa, after posting this article to regular FB, I changed it a day later to Open Salon Anthology, a closed group at FB where you find OS members (only). I figured you might appreciate the privacy of your family.

The rapid recovery of your mom's condition is amazing. I hope she stays this way. All the best to you and your family.

Blessings in abundance !!!

Comment by Alysa Salzberg on October 22, 2015 at 1:34pm

Hi Heidi,  Thanks so much for thinking about my family's privacy. I think you have a point, and before this, I was very protective of them - but at this point, desperate times call for desperate measures.  So please feel free to post and spread the word about this wherever you think is best.  But thank you again.  And thanks also and above all for your blessings and kind words!


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