"Mom, are you going to make deviled eggs for the party? I haven't had those in a while."
I hadn't planned that particular menu item, but when your son is home from college and makes a request...well, it becomes reality - at least if this mother has anything to do with it. Damn kid tricked me into loving him and wanting to do things for him. He's 18, a sophomore in college, and 6 foot tall.
All I can do for him now is make an egg.
(And pay for college.)
"Sure." I add eggs to my shopping list.
We have an appetizer spread Christmas Eve. It's a tradition I started when I married my husband. Previously, the only thing that happened on Christmas Eve was a hopefully Silent Night. Tradition stated that the kids got to open one present in the evening - always new pajamas and a book to read in bed. This "Mommy, can we open just one present, just one.....pleeeeeease?" appeasement was supposed to help them sleep on that most exciting of nights. A good book and soft, comfy PJs with a stern warning to stay in bed was wrapped and ready for them each Christmas Eve.
Change happens. Being a single mom and marrying a man with two daughters meant I needed to be flexible and get creative about holiday traditions. I knew their mother would want the girls for Christmas, so I tried to find way to make it easy and fun for everybody. I came up with the idea of a Christmas Eve party. I put out a spread, and we drink hot cider, eat a bunch of appetizers, and open gifts before the big day. Christmas Day was the day Santa came for little kids. Christmas Eve became family gift day. Two days of fun, what kid would complain about that?
The tradition has stuck over the years, long after Santa moved on and the girls grew up. This year my stepdaughter's son - my beautiful grandchild - is 18 months old - almost old enough to understand something wonderful happens this day. I fear another change will happen soon as they live nearly 100 miles away. At some point, travel might become impossible. But at least for this year, our now firmly entrenched holiday traditions continue.
Now is all that counts for any of us.
Honoring my son's desire, I stood by the sink, peeling eggs,
Shoot. I'd done 7 eggs with no problem, but the 8th egg was one of "those" - the kind that are impossible to open, some sort of genetically mutated glue masquerading as egg. Usually when I come across one of those modest eggs who refused to become undressed, I usually give it up, rip off the white and expose the little green ball of yolk to just use for filling, but this time I needed a whole egg to complete the plate. So there I stood, chipping minuscule pieces off, slowly, like the baby chicken itself was trying to hatch with its tiny soft beak. At the 30 minute mark I said out loud, "This is ridiculous!" I cursed myself for only boiling as many as I needed. I realized that my timing for getting the food on the table was behind because of this one, stupid egg. Still, I kept at it. Chip. Chip. Millimeter by millimeter I picked off shell, finally ending up with a whole, perfect egg. Whew. My platter would be complete. My son would have his deviled eggs.
A couple of months ago in October, my being able to stand up and make even something simple like a deviled egg seemed an impossibility. I was truly, fearfully sick. I was unable to eat and had lost weight; weight that I could not afford to lose, dipping into the 80s. I was having terrible pain in my abdomen - rolling on the floor pain - pain bad enough so that a normal person would have gone to the hospital. No pain med would help. It gnawed on me even in my sleep. After testing, new cancer was found throughout my abdomen and chest, and I started a new chemo, which made me sick - nauseated, tired, and which incredibly, increased my pain. I was truly feeling like this was the beginning of the end, and there would be no Christmas party, no appetizers, maybe not even a me. I hoped to do our normal Christmas, but I really felt like it wasn't going to happen. Not that I would be dead, but that I'd be in bed.
In November I started TDM-1 aka Kadcyla. (All HER2 metastatic woman who have dealt with cancer for a while say that - "TDM-1 aka Kadcyla". Most of us watched the progress of this drug through the FDA approval system, so still think of it as the test name) My first infusion was awful, like movie chemo. I was on my hands and knees, vomiting. I had every side effect, from constipation to heartburn to neuropathy. Everything hurt. I felt better just in time to get my next infusion, which was easier on me, the nausea down to just a few days. Then, some of my cancery symptoms were gone. By my third infusion, December 23rd, surprisingly, I felt much better. Pain is now down to a livable level (although it is still more than anybody should have to deal with and that is another blog post) and sometimes, if I'm vewwy vewwy still, I don't hurt at all. I'm still tired but that can be managed, and the nausea, for the most part, is gone. Incredibly, I can eat again, without pain. I will have a scan in the next month or so to see what the treatment is doing, and I feel pretty positive about it. Can I once again be responding to a chemo? I cannot imagine I can feel this normal and still have cancer spreading and growing throughout my system, although by now I know anything can happen.
Christmas lives, and so do I. The appetizer party continues.
Like all who have metastatic cancer, my mind can be consumed with "lasts." As my time on earth dwindles, as I know it is, I wonder more about what will happen when I am gone. What traditions will live on? It may be my last holiday - but will it be the last gathering for my family too?
Just as I was the one who decided on the Christmas Eve party, I am also the one who is in charge of all gatherings. Every celebration is spent here: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, my husband's birthday. The planning, the cooking, the invitations, the timing, the gift purchasing, the entertaining - all decisions, it's all up to me, even these days. My husband now goes to the store for me, and helps clean, but still, for the most part, I am the planner, and fortunately, I have been able to keep it up.
What happens when I'm gone? Will my husband continue having family over for Christmas Eve appetizers? For Easter? A barbecue on his birthday? Will he do the planning and work involved, or will he become a guest, invited to one house or another? Will the various sides of our family still gather together or will they all go separate ways as more children enter the mix and travelling gets more difficult? What changes will happen without me being the host, I wonder?
I've worked hard for our home to be the touchstone, the place where relationships are renewed and we all catch up, and I wanted it to be the place where we watch the kids grow.
Will that happen still?
Or, when I am gone, will differences chip away at the family until it is no more?
Maybe that would that have happened anyway. It's natural for people to move on and start new traditions, as I did so long ago. It takes work to keep a family together, to keep traditions going. I love family celebrations, enough to spend 30 minutes picking at an egg.
Does the rest of my family?
I'll never know.