Susan E. Yahr was the name of my completely incredible mother. Her birthday is today, which happens to land in Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Mom always had a child-like quality to her. She’d start food fights at dinner, even if we were out at a restaurant, wore socks that were purposely mismatched and liked to play jokes on the people she worked with. She could lay down the law when she needed to, but she preferred to have fun. Mom was great at surprising people, too, so for her 50th birthday, my sisters, dad and I threw her a surprise luau for her birthday. In March. In Minnesota. She always claimed that she knew we were up to something (my dad is less than subtle…) but the rest of us prefer to think we put one over on her. Everyone there had a great time, Mom included.
Mom also liked to make things for people. She’s the only person I know who enjoyed spending Black Friday at Joann Fabrics. She made clothes for us when we were really little, continued to do so for a friend’s little girls, and made fleece bath blankets for our friends’ babies.
On June 15th, 2009, Dad took Mom to have her colonoscopy. When they returned they gave us the news that “they” found “something” during the procedure and took a sample for a biopsy. The next evening, Mom was in the kitchen eating dinner, I was downstairs watching TV, Dad and my sister, Lisa, weren’t home and my older sister was in Iowa. The phone rang and Mom picked it up. She went upstairs to her bedroom, which wasn’t entirely unusual so I didn’t think too much of it. She came back to the kitchen, put the phone back on the charger and finished her dinner. Knowing that we were expecting news about the biopsy, I went upstairs to the kitchen, put my dishes in the dishwasher and asked her about the phone call. That’s when she told me the biopsy showed she had cancer. I cried, but she just hugged me and told me she would be ok.
In July, she had a bowel resection and was in the hospital for a week. She started chemo in August and concluded the following February. Meanwhile, I left for graduate school in Louisville. Three weeks after school started, we found out mom had Cancer: Part Deux with mets to the liver. Surgery in October, chemo in November, treatment ended in April 2011.
All was right in our world again for almost a year. Then on March 30th, 2012, Mom had another biopsy. She had cancer, again. Treatment started April 4th, 2012, just over a month before my graduation from grad school and Lisa’s graduation from undergrad. Mom and dad drove to Louisville for graduation, which happened to land on Mother’s Day weekend. The next weekend, they drove to Decorah, Iowa for Lisa’s graduation.
I moved home at the end of May and helped take care of Mom again. We went to chemo every week and experimented with bland food and smoothies in hopes that she could actually eat something without her mouth hurting. When September rolled around and the chemo wasn’t working as well anymore, her oncologist suggested a clinical trial. We got the go-ahead and she started the clinical trial in early October 2012. On November 16th, 2012, my birthday, Mom started experiencing extreme pain and landed in the hospital for five days, getting discharged the day before Thanksgiving. We drove from one hospital to another so she could have chemo. That same morning, we found out we might have a year left with her. Mom and I kept that secret until after the holiday. No sense in ruining everyone’s Thanksgiving, we thought. On black Friday she went to the craft store in the morning, then she and I drove to Ames, Iowa for the West Virginia-Iowa State football game. She was in major pain, on medication and I was eight days post-ankle surgery. We were basically two people who had no sense being on the highway, let alone at a football game. Mom wouldn’t have had it any other way, though, and I was only too happy to take her to her first, and only, WVU game.
Mom underwent treatment into 2013, but continued working, as well. She traveled to Canada in June to visit my older sister for her birthday. She also went with Lisa and me on a road trip out East in July. My mother was a trooper and indescribably stubborn.
Late on the night of August 7th and into the early morning hours of August 8th, life played the cruelest of jokes on my mother and family. She began having multiple ischemic strokes and was in the ICU. She was in the hospital for 12 days. When she was in the ICU, she had 14 liters of fluid removed in just four days. The decision was made that she would come home with hospice. She came home on a Tuesday afternoon. No one expected her to last through the weekend, but mom proved us wrong. Finally, at 10:50 a.m. on Thursday, August 29th, 2013, my older sister, brother-in-law and I held my mother’s hands as she looked each one of us in the eye and took her last breaths.
I am forever grateful for all the time I got to have with her, even though much of it was in hospitals. Mom did her best to make this experience as pleasant as possible. She always said she wanted to spare us the details so she could protect us, even though I knew mom’s case as well as her oncologist. Mom never stopped living even though, for the last year of her life, many people around her treated her as if she was already dead. We love and miss you dearly, Little Rocky!