It was almost five years ago that I received a phone call from my dad giving me news that no daughter wants to hear. “Tumors everywhere... All over her brain...” He was talking about my mom. My vibrant, selfless, retired nurse mom had been on a medical mission trip in Guatemala in February 2010 when she had her first symptoms. She was escorted back to Texas where my dad met her and flew her back to California. She was admitted to UCSF Medical Center, and our worst fears were realized: Primary Lymphoma of the brain. Cancer.

 

I cannot even write that small portion of our history without my throat constricting as I fight to keep tears from obscuring my sight. The following years are a blur of being in and out of the hospital: cancer, chemo, rehab, home, more chemo, then home, and back again. She went into remission but that was short lived. Cancer again. Chemo again. Then cancer again. Radiation. Chemo. When would it stop? Would it stop??? HOW COULD THIS BE HAPPENING TO MY MOM?

 

There are many stories to share from this period of my life. I can remember breaking down into uncontrollable, helpless tears in the middle of the hospital floor, crumbling to the ground and sobbing, only later to be found by my dad who held me while we both shook with grief. I can still feel my dad's sobbing body against my own. I can remember the joy we felt when we were first told that the cancer was gone! That elated feeling that everything was okay and the future was bright. And I can remember my mom putting her hand onto my face after the second recurrence of the cancer, looking deeply into my eyes and saying “I don't want you to be sad.” Oh, Mom...

 

Cancer is just about the most evil beast there is. It wreaks havoc on every life it touches, filling those quiet moments with uncertainty. Mom has a cold... could it be something more? Cancer. I hate it. I wish cancer would get cancer and die.

 

But this is not to be a story of why cancer sucks. This is a story of thankfulness.

 

This is a story of love.

 

My mom has been out of the hospital for well over a year now. Going on two years. I remember in February 2013, she got a clear MRI: no cancer. When I told my daughter that her MRI was clear, she said, “Zero? None?” I said yes, and she exclaimed, “Zero None is the best kind of cancer!” Truer words have never been said. 

 

 

She has not had a recurrence since then.

 

We are grateful. There are always reasons to complain. There are always things that could be better. I hate that my mom still has to fight every day for strength. I hate that she has lost the independence she spent her whole life enjoying. She used her independence to help others. She and my dad are both models of the type of person I want to be: a giving, loving, empathic person who does what she can to make this world a brighter place. And so while I could complain, today, I stand here choosing to see the blinding beauty that this world has to offer.

 

Today, I choose to be grateful for what I have.

 

Last year, we enjoyed a Thanksgiving with my mom where she wasn't in the hospital. The previous year, my mom was getting chemo in the hospital on Thanksgiving day. My brother brought her a Thanksgiving meal, and she threw it up. That Thanksgiving was a rough one. So, last year, she was home. She was cancer free. And we had to celebrate. And it had to be a big celebration. And because my family isn't really known for being entirely normal, we celebrated our first annual Thankswigging.

 

Thankswigging. That's not a type-o. On Thankgiving Day we donned our best wigs and gave thanks. We celebrated what we had. We rejoiced in our silliness, our family, our friendships, our laughter.

 

We celebrated our love.

 

 

Through all the chemotherapy my mom got, she actually never lost her hair. A strange silver lining, I suppose, that while the cancer ravaged her brain, the chemo didn't affect the covering on her head. We didn't wear wigs on Thanksgiving to match a wig my mom wore, although that would have been a damn fine idea. We wore wigs on Thanksgiving because it's fun. Try it. Try putting a wig on your head and not laughing.

 

 

 

We put on wigs because it made everything a little better. Seriously, I dare you to put on a wig and not laugh. Putting a wig on your head will lift your spirits. And if you have a loved one who is wearing a wig because they have lost their hair, then putting on a wig acknowledges that fight and has you all standing up in solidarity against cancer. Screw cancer!

 

So this Thanksgiving, I ask that you find some wigs, put them on your heads, and say, “Screw you, Cancer. We are thankful for the blessings in our lives, regardless of where we are right now. We are thankful for love, for family, for friendship. Screw you, cancer. You got nothin' on us because we got LOVE.

 

Last year, we put on our wigs, laughed, hugged, giggled, and listened to my mom, wearing her black afro wig, as she gave our Thanksgiving prayer, a quote from Meister Eckhart:

 

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”

 

Amen to that.