A Hoot We Needed

I haven’t updated in a while and it’s because so much has changed in the last couple of weeks.

I resigned from my position at work to achieve my dream of becoming a nurse; to fulfill a promise I made to my mom in the last few days of her life. Although taking care of her was the hardest thing I ever had to do, 13124513_10156928387720077_1334661829735087786_nmentally and physically, it was the most rewarding thing in my life. It taught me patience, acceptance, empathy, sympathy and it made me a stronger person inside and out. I started nursing school and it’s difficult – but it’s supposed to be, especially when your mom passed away just shy of two months ago. But my focus on my dream is stronger than ever, reminding myself each day that I want to help patients and their families during the hard times in their lives; just as others did for us.

We celebrated the first Mother’s Day without my mom, and it was the most difficult day of my life, second to saying goodbye to her. The days that followed brought emotions that I didn’t know existed, the day itself gave me lasting exhaustion. I was tired, irritable, sad, angry and experienced feelings I can’t even begin to put into words. 13124733_10156928387605077_2966671819641217940_n

Mother’s Day is supposed to be about spending time with the woman who gave you everything, who taught you all you needed to know and more, who wiped your tears when you cried, hugged you when you were wrong and loved you no matter what. Except this Mother’s Day, it wasn’t that. She was not there to wipe my tear soaked eyes, she wasn’t there to have a glass or two of Pino Grigio with me, she wasn’t there to laugh with me or open up presents that I put so much thought into. She wasn’t there to go to a vineyard with. She wasn’t there physically and that was the hardest part.

People can tell me continuously until they are blue in the face that she is always with us, but that doesn’t change the fact that she isn’t tangible. She isn’t in front of my telling me, “Ashley, stop being a baby.” She may be with us, but physically she is not and that is something I just can’t fathom.

On Mother’s Day we tried to make the best of the day, remembering my mom in the best ways possible. We started off at church and prayed to God that she would give us some kind of sign that day. We followed it with a trip to the cemetery. It was raining and the rain fell down my face, just as my tears did. We placed an angel and flowers at her grave – two things we would never get her. First, because she hated flowers. Second, because she preferred her nails getting done more than a knickknack.

13124967_10156928387425077_2427183647542871906_nWe stood there in the pouring rain and I begged her that this was a dream that we still didn’t wake up from. I stood there until I could not stand there anymore. Visiting your mom at her grave is something you shouldn’t have to do. It’s not something I should have to do. I never expected this day to come this early and I always thought she’d be around forever, making it to her mid 90s, because that is the personality she had. I never thought that I would bury my mom so early in my life.

We continued with our day and had lunch with my husband’s family. At first, I wasn’t going to attend because 1) I was too emotional 2) because it felt as if I was replacing my mom with something else and finally 3) I was worried I would break down and cry because I couldn’t have lunch with my mom.

We came home from brunch and planted a tree in memory of my mom. My in-laws bought us this tree to help keep the memory of my mom alive. We dug out a garden and planted a Flowering Dogwood. Again, she doesn’t like flowers, but seriously, the tree is beautiful. We also decorated the garden with an owl stepping stone in honor of the first sign we ever received from her and another stepping stone in her memory – “If love alone could have spared you, you would have lived forever…”

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And as the days pass, it gets harder, not easier. My praying that it is a bad dream is frequent and all I can think of is how this happened. How did this happen to the women that was so strong, so resilient? We’re approaching two months without my mom and it feels like time is going so slow. Each day drags on and its one more day without her.

Between the stress, our busy schedules, and my mom not being here it seems some days it’s unmanageable. So as I struggle for answers, for support from her and for a sign – she pulls through just in time – just before I break.

Yesterday morning, I went outside and saw that our garbage was torn a part. The garbage can didn’t look messed up, and only the top bag was torn. I called my husband and told him I thought a raccoon got into it for a midnight snack. Well, to my surprise, last night my husband was outside with the dogs when he saw what in fact was eating our garbage. It was a big, beautiful white owl. (If this is the first time you have read my blog, the first sign the night my mom passed away was an owl hooting outside of our window – and days that followed we saw more owls and heard them hoot.)

When my husband texted me this, I was in class and tears instantly filled my eyes. She was listening to me. She knew I needed a sign – she knew we all needed her, three days before the two month mark without her.

This one moment, taught me overnight to keep the faith, to keep believing and to know when times are tough, she still will come through, she still will take care of us.

My Survivor is my Angel

This week, our family and close friends attended Seymour Pink‘s 9th Annual Pasta Dinner to celebrate survivors of breast cancer, but to also remember those who lost their lives in the battle. We had two baskets raffled off in memory of my mom. Two baskets full of things she absolutely loved, including: Pino Grigio, getting her nails done, her dinners at Rose’s Family Restaurant, and the UCONN Huskies.

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As we sat there and listened to the stories told and the memories shared, I realized we are not alone. There are people that are battling day in and day out to make the best of their diagnosis with their family and friends by their sides. There are families and children who lost a loved one too soon, with not enough memories to remember. There are communities who provide support and love to those affected. But most of all, there is a lot of heart and love in Seymour Pink.

They took a picture of all the survivors of breast cancer and they filled an entire side of a room. They had all these smiling faces, but their smiles were different. They smile differently then the rest of us when we receive good news. They smile because they have their life. They get to make more memories. And, that is a different smile.

As the picture of the survivors was taken, I couldn’t help but feel sad. Tears filled my eyes and I couldn’t stop thinking about how my mom was once a survivor, she was in that group of men and women, smiling because they had their life back. It was not too long ago that we cheered and smiled, because we found out my mom was cancer free. That feeling of happiness quickly subsided and we were back into the vicious cycle of breast cancer.

But, as I thought about myself in that moment of sadness the other night, I realized something. Just because mom isn’t here, just because mom can’t smile in a picture that gets taken, or just because mom can’t make memories anymore, it doesn’t mean she isn’t a survivor. Just because she lost her life to a battle that couldn’t be won, doesn’t mean she isn’t a survivor. In fact, she did survive. She survived through it all, better than any one of us could. And today, she’s surviving. She’s healthy, she’s cancer-free and she’s the best kind of survivor – she’s an angel. And that is where she will survive, forever.

My surviving angel, my mom, would have been proud the other night. We all held our composure and celebrated not just all the men and women that breast cancer has affected, but we celebrated her. We celebrated the life she lived and the memories she left behind for us.

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But, when it was all over, it was real again and those feelings of sadness and missing her flooded my mind. And, today I sit here, missing her more than ever. I sit here with tears filling my eyes and wanting so badly to have her here with us. I want so badly to not have to take a picture with just the three of us. I want so badly to not have to visit her at her grave. My grief will always be there, and my sadness with always stay with me, because when you loose your mother, you loose a part of you. But, what keeps me focused and keeps me climbing to my goals and aspirations; and what helps me get out of bed everyday is that my mom was so strong, and she would want us to live our lives.

 

 

One Month Without You

Today is one month. One month without you, mom. One month without my best friend. One month of no phone calls, no texts, no hugs, no dinners, no visits to Yale. One month without the one person who could always give me the words of encouragement I needed.

12512411_10156756053665077_6238938909160909214_nHow can it be? How can a month go by without you here? How did this happen and why? Each day I try to remember you’re still here. I try to think that you’re in a better place. I try to hope that this is a bad dream. I would give anything to see you again. I would give anything for that grave not to be yours. I would give anything to wrap my arms around you and hold tight.

Our routines are different now. There are spaces in our days that you used to fill. Whether it was a phone call or a visit, you were a part of my every day. I used to call you every morning on my way to work. Now I drive in silence. I used to call you a couple times throughout the day to ask you what you were doing or to check in and make sure everything was okay. I used to talk to you on the way home from work, asking you questions about how to prepare something for dinner. I used to drive to Yale to spend time with you after work. I used to drive to the rehab facility to force you to eat something.

Now, I try to visit with you as much as I can. I try to go to see you as much as possible. I kneel down and my tears make a puddle of mud on your grave; my makeup down my face. It’s not always real, but when it is – it’s unbearable. 12993590_10156847078300077_1633827117787585359_n.jpgIt’s the feeling of hopelessness, of weakness, pity and agony. The days that it’s real, my eyes swell, my tears flow, my head pounds and my day drags.

And it brings me back to one month ago today. We sat there at noon, the last time you were awake was 7 PM the night before – the last time you squeezed my hand, the last time you told me you loved me. So, each hour they told us it was closer to loosing you and that you were closer to letting go. Each hour your hands became colder, moving up your arms. Each hour you received morphine and ativan. Each minute we counted your breaths. Each minute we watched your chest. We watched as your breaths got shallower. We watched as you could no longer swallow. We watched as your body shut down and we watched as you battled with letting go.

On hour four, we each begged you to let go. We told you it would be okay, even though it really isn’t okay. We cried to you and told you enough was enough. We cried and told you how much we were going to miss you. You became more swollen and you started to not look like you anymore. I held your hand and my tears didn’t stop. I rubbed your head and tried to make sure you were warm.

The house was full the day you passed. Your friends and your family came to say goodbye and to be the strength we so desperately needed. Your friends, they cried and they told you how much you meant to them. We opened a window to help your spirit along. We left the room to let you be alone. We drank Pino Grigio and ate plate after plate of food. And, every so often we’d break down, cry and be angry.

12994408_10156847092775077_8714010920453037517_nYour nurses became our family and they watched your every move. Their eyes were on you. They told us when they were giving you medication. They moved you so you didn’t choke. They counted your breaths.

One month ago, today, was the longest day of my life, as well as the absolute worst. At 2 AM, I went upstairs to take a break from watching you and 20 minutes later, it was time. We watched you as you took your last breath. You opened your eyes. My anxiety took over and I could barely stand without shaking. I didn’t cry then. But when everyone left the room and gave me and you a second, I cried to you and begged you to tell me this was a bad dream. I asked you what I was going to do without you. What was I going to do when Steve and I decide to have a family? What was I going to do when something didn’t go the way I had imagined? What was I going to do when all I need is my mom? 12308685_10208003571512916_433899780529971083_n.jpg

Your funeral came and went in a blink of an eye. We celebrated you and put in a shift at Rose’s afterwards. And the next day, Steve and I packed up our things and moved back to our home. It was at that moment is was real. We were no longer taking care of you. We were no longer needed. We didn’t have you anymore. So, we unpacked our bags and tried to put our life back together. But, since you’ve been gone, I can’t say that my life it put back together. It’s mostly patched up and there are times when I wonder how I am going to get through this.
There are nights that I don’t sleep. There are nights that all I do is dream of you. There are nights that I wake up in a sweat, tears falling down my face and my heart racing. There are days when I force myself to get up out of bed and go to work. There are days when I’m nasty and angry.

So, one month has gone by and it’s not much easier. If anything it’s a little bit harder. And, I think that’s because until recently I didn’t believe this was real. I didn’t believe that this was the life that we now live… without you. I love you, mom. And each day I think of you. Each day I wish you were here. And each day I wonder what you’re doing, what you’re thinking, what you’re watching.

And, I look forward to your signs. I look forward to the hoot of an owl. I look forward to a knock at my door. And I look forward to the wind at your grave.

 

The Signs of my Mom

Yesterday, I visited my mom at her grave. And as I stood on the wet, soppy ground I talked with her. I told her how much I missed her and how each day is a struggle without her. As I looked at her grave marker the tears flowed uncontrollably and the wind started whipping around. I asked her how she was doing in heaven, if she was happy about the UCONN women winning, I updated her on my life since the last time I visited her. I told her how much I missed her and how I still can’t believe she is gone.

And as I stood there talking with her, again it became real. Sometimes I don’t realize she really is gone. I can’t touch her, hug her, kiss her or drink wine with her; but for some reason I don’t think she’s dead; I think she’s just at a rehab facility or Smilow Cancer Hospital.

When I arrive at her grave, it becomes real all over again. This is where I come to see her. This is the place I now come to visit. It’s where my mom lays. It’s where her body rests.

The other day I was writing thank you notes to everyone who sent their love and support during the most difficult time in our lives. I reached Father Dom’s (our priest) thank you note, and as I wrote I heard a knock. Our dogs started barking and ran to the door. To my surprise, no one was there. I went back to writing my thank you and just as I began, another knock. The dogs ran again to the door, then ran and looked out the window. Nothing. But then as I sat there and remembered that people have been telling me over and over to be open to the signs, I smiled and a couple tears filled my eyes. It was mom.

I’ve said it before, mom had this personality that was infectious, but her personality also had a very large piece of neurotic mom and wife. Constantly checking on dad and I and making sure she knew exactly what we were doing, when we were doing it, why we were doing it and if it was safe for us to be doing it. She kept tabs on us always. At 24, she would still tell me to text her when I got home, or tell me not to drive my car because it might be icy. So naturally, it makes sense for her to send signs frequently.

I bought an owl garden gnome in honor of the first sign we ever received from mom. I put it in our garden as protection and also to remind me of how lucky we are to have such an amazingly, beautiful angel looking down on us. Now, everyday when I come home, I see it and I take a minute to look at it, even sometimes saying “Hi, Mom.”

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The other day, I came home from work, and instead of my usual glass of wine, I craved a Diet Coke. I’m not a usual soda drinker, but occasionally its DELICIOUS! So as I prepped dinner I sipped on my Diet Coke. After about 30 minutes of my chicken in the oven, I checked on it and when I went to grab for my Diet Coke, I realized – it was one of the cans that were part of the Coke name campaign – and it said MOM. I was frozen and held back my tears, washed the can and it is now sitting on our kitchen counter. Mom, you really are telling us your watching.

Each day is so hard and sometimes I wonder how in the world I will make it through. There are days I don’t want to talk, some days when all I want to do is lay in my bed and cry, some days when I want to scream, some days when I ask myself “Did I do something to deserve this?” But, what keeps me standing and what keeps me from curling up in my bed or crying all day is the fact mom would never want that for me; but even more so, for the first time in a LONG time, mom is healthy, mom is cancer free.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a struggle every day. That doesn’t mean that when I see people with their moms it’s not hard. That doesn’t mean that I am not dreading Mother’s Day and anytime I walk in the store and see Mother’s Day cards, decorations or gifts my eyes swell up with tears and I turn my head as fast as possible and turn my direction.

My mom is not here anymore. She will always be with me, but she’s not here physically. And that is something that hurts the most. It hurts that I can’t hug her. It hurts that I can’t touch her. It hurts that this has changed our family so much. It hurts not having her here. And I feel bad. I feel bad that she won’t be here for so many things. I feel bad that my dad has to go home and be alone. I feel bad that anytime someone says her name or talks about her I have to swallow hard to stop the tears from filling my eyes. I feel bad that it’s come to this.

I want my mom. I want her back. I need her.

 

 

Visits with Mom

Visiting my mom isn’t going to a rehab facility or going to Smilow Cancer Hospital. It’s not going over her house. It’s not taking her to a doctor appointment.23978caf-e603-49a0-ab61-ab535ee939d4.jpeg

Now, visiting her is at a grave.

It’s talking to the dirt and crying uncontrollably because I would give up anything to take her to just one more doctor appointment or visit her just one more time at Smilow Cancer Hospital. Even though it was exhausting, mentally and physically, I would give anything to just take care of her for a couple more days. I would do anything to have those moments back – to feed her, lift her drink up so she could take a sip, to help her change her clothes, to help her go to the bathroom, to talk with her and cry with her, to not sleep more than 3 hours a night.

People keep telling me you can still talk to her and she’s still here. But, I wish people would stop saying that because I know I can still talk to her – but it’s not the same. She doesn’t talk back. She doesn’t tell me when I’m being a bitch. She doesn’t tell me that it will be okay. She doesn’t tell me that those pair of shoes look better than the other ones or that my necklace is too bulky for that outfit.

Mom and I had such a strong bond. And I’m sure my dad felt as if we ganged up on him quite a bit, but that comes with the territory of being the only man in the house. Once a week mom and I would play tricks on him. We would stuff his dress shoes with toilet paper so when he woke up and tried to put his shoes on at 4:45 in the morning, he struggled. And when he got home from work, we’d laugh. That never did get old. It got him every time. Too easy.

A couple weeks ago, when mom was still with us Dad told me stories about him and mom. One of them being that mom stood him up A LOT during their dating days. Or, when mom got my dad a watch, and to be sentimental, engraved it with his name, except, after a year of dating she still didn’t know how to spell his name right. So she gave it to him, engraved with ALAN. Not right mom, not right.

Or, when dad tried to propose and they sat down for dinner and without saying anything mom said “Allen I know you have something for me. You have something in your pocket, I know it. Aren’t you going to ask me something?” Nothing could be a surprise with mom – and that is when I realized I really am my mother’s daughter. So, when Stephen proposed, I did the same thing. I begged and pleaded for him to give me the ring. I told him “I know you have it. Just do it. Ask me. Do it. Do It.” And, he did do it and we planned a wedding in 22 days, so that my mom’s dream of seeing me marry the man of my dreams come true, and so that our dream of having my mom there would be possible. That’s one week I remember more than any other week. The week that we sat on the couch and planned our wedding.

So, at the perfect timing, we received our wedding video yesterday. And last night, my husband and I sat down and watched the two hour film. I couldn’t wait to see my mom. I couldn’t wait to see her talk, laugh and cry. But, for some reason I find this totally crazy. Because seeing her would obvious make me upset, emotional and angry. And, I know our wedding film is supposed to be about us and be such an amazing thing to look back at. But, right now, for me it’s not. Right now for me it hits too close to home and as I cried my way through the video at every single shot of my mom; I was right back to the beginning of my grieving.

As I watched her in one scene of the video, I left the room, and it was the first time I heard what she said when I wasn’t there. She said, “Allen, she looks absolutely beautiful. So beautiful. I can’t even believe it.” And that hurt even more. I know one day I will look back at our wedding video and watch it with amazement and also watch it with a huge smile on my face, not just because it was the best day of my life, but because I can see my mom. I can watch her and hear her. I can be back in that moment with her.

 

Our Story – The Beginning

My name is Ashley Dayton and my mother has Stage IV Triple Negative Breast Cancer. I started this blog as a way to share our story in hopes to help others – but more importantly as a way to release my hurt, anger, frustration and fear.

11902274_10207384678680982_5450240017172485055_nAt 40 years young, my mom’s dream of having a child came true. She gave birth to a beautiful (I may be bias!) little girl, who was a spitting image of her father. I had the best childhood as an only child. Hugs were always there to heal my hurts and her words always encouraged me to try again. She cheered me on at every sporting event and never missed one. She taught me life lessons when I made mistakes. Most importantly though, she always made sure I had fun. People always ask me, did you like being an only child? My answer is ALWAYS yes, because I didn’t have to share all the love my parents gave me with anyone else.

Because of her, I know that I can always love more and strive more. She raised me better than anyone could have raised me, loved me unconditionally, let me learn on my own but always caught me when I was about to fall. She has seen me through the good times and the bad and always has been there when I needed her the most. Like when I would call her at 2 AM saying I wanted to come home because my bed was more comfortable than the floor OR when she bought plane tickets for me once a month for a year so that it would make my homesickness a little easier.

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But in September 2012, our world changed. My best friend, the strongest woman I know; my mom was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer and opted for a double mastectomy. After a surgery that seemed like a lifetime she was on the road to recovery. She went through rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. She laid in a hyperbaric chamber weekly – hoping and believing that this would cure her. This would cure our family. And it did, for a year, or we thought it did.

In January 2014, we embarked on what we thought would be her final surgery. A way to close the hurt we felt. She underwent a 22 hour reconstruction surgery. Physically and mentally exhausted we were thankful it was over. I thought, my mom is back. She is going to drink wine with me, instigate my shopping habit and be cancer-free. But a couple days later, it all changed… once again. The next chapter was being written and we weren’t ready.

mom.JPGThe doctor said – “I’m sorry, but I found something that just didn’t look right during the surgery. I sent it out to be biopsied and it hurts me to tell you this, but it’s cancer.” I sat there with my mom next to me, in awe. Tears started rolling down my face. I started sobbing. This was truly the first time I was scared. I was scared for my mom and my family. How could we go through this again? We had a plan. We would take a family vacation, we would drink wine, we would laugh.

It turns out there were two tumors, one behind her breast bone and one on the left side of where her breast used to be. It was once again Triple Negative Breast Cancer, and a different form. Each tumor reacted differently to treatments. At this point we asked not to know the stage, for fear it would only feed our mind with ammunition. Instead, we were going to beat this, just like we had so many times 11903717_10207384678760984_2761102080749342473_n.jpgbefore. (Note: My mom was first diagnosed with breast cancer at age 46 and had a lumpectomy – but this story is not about the first time, it’s about the last time.)

Breathe. I remember telling myself every time there was a doctor appointment. Breathe. Every time there was a scan. Breathe. Every time there was a test. Breathe. Breathe.

I would tell my parents, I hate your doctor. He isn’t doing enough. He isn’t giving us options. He isn’t giving us support and he sure as hell is not fighting with us. And then, when the tumors kept growing and the treatments kept not working – we arrived at Yale – Smilow Cancer Hospital – looking for help. Chemotherapy was the answer, but there were options. There were trials. There were different forms of chemotherapy – an injection, a pill, etc.

12654232_10156552752850077_3149228218305345566_nBut we still had hope. There had to be a cure, because any one who knows my mom knows she’s a fighter, she has a personality that cannot be copied and a laugh that is infectious. She is a positive person, that always believes there is something to be thankful for.

As 2015 came to an end, I prayed that 2016 would be different. A cure would be found and we would put this behind us, again. We would move on.

2016 began and the only piece of my prayer that was answered was that 2016 would be different. Different is an understatement. Hard is a better statement. In January 2016, we found out this year would be the hardest of our lives. My mom’s cancer was Stage IV Triple Negative Breast Cancer and there was no cure. There were options for treatment that could help keep the tumors at bay, buying us time. But we had to understand that our life would be different from that moment in January.

10308119_10154178703710077_3425491599274794678_n.jpgIn and out of Yale Smilow Cancer Center, my mom would say her name was Susan “Yale” Trabka. Giving us a laugh, or two… But the reality was my mom was sick. The funny thing is I never thought of her as sick before this. Before this, she didn’t even have cancer (in my mind) it was just a couple tumors that needed attention. I was in denial. We were all in denial. We were blinded.

We were told our time was limited. And all I could do was cry. We all cried until there were no tears left. My mom, the matriarch of our family, the glue that holds us together, was really sick and there was nothing we could do.

But there was something we could do. We could enjoy our life with her. We could laugh, we could cry and we could sit in silence. We could create memories that would last forever. And so we did. My boyfriend at the time, now husband, proposed and we planned a wedding in 26 days. My dream, my mom’s dream, my dad’s dream and my husband’s dream came true – having my mom see me marry the man of my dreams. The man that would take care of me. The man that would take care of all of us.

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This is where my blog begins.

Mom, you’ve been through more than anyone can understand, but through it all you’ve kept a smile on your face. Through surgery after surgery and treatment after treatment you’ve somehow always found a way to laugh. You’ve taught me life isn’t always as bad as we think it is, instead it teaches us to be stronger.

Mom, thank you for being my best friend. I couldn’t begin to express everything you have done for dad and me. You have been a solid rock for me during every hard time – always willing to listen and do whatever you can to help.