My mom, Dianne Downey Hoover Hayes, died on August 31, 2003 at about 2:00 a.m. She was 57.
It all started in the spring of 1999. I was in the last month of my last semester of college. Mom and Dad were in the last year of tuition payments. Since my oldest brother, Mark, started first grade in 1974, they had been paying for private school for three sons–twelve years of private elementary, middle, and high school, plus private college for all of us. The end was near. Their youngest was three weeks away from graduation. Retirement was less than ten years away for both of them.
But life doesn’t always go as planned. Mom went for a routine mammogram and got bad news. There was a small lump. She couldn’t feel it. She felt fine. But it was cancer. She came home after receiving the final diagnosis to tell everybody. I was reading the newspaper on the couch. She said, “I went to the doctor today. I have breast cancer.” I lowered the newspaper, made some dismissive comment, then went back to reading. On the outside, I looked tough. On the inside, I was in shock. I was scared. Breast cancer is treatable these days, but I had no idea how things would turn out for her. So, I put on a good face and went about my business.
They scheduled surgery to have the lump removed and start chemotherapy. A simple blood test before chemo revealed elevated liver enzymes, so they did some more testing and found another tumor on her kidney. The doctors decided to remove the kidney then do chemo for the breast cancer. That surgery went as planned. She underwent a series of chemo treatments (I think 7-8) and radiation treatments while still maintaining a work schedule at Madison church of Christ where she was the Senior Saints Coordinator. Her hair fell out (but she got a wig from a lady who had made some wigs for Dolly Parton). It took about a year to do all the surgeries and chemo and recover from all of it. Then…she was in remission. She felt good. She looked good. I remember her bouncing around the house one Saturday, cleaning and joking. She stopped and said, “I haven’t felt this good in a long time.” She was happy. We all were. She was in full remission for about a year.
But there are valleys around every mountain, and her valley came soon enough. It was the summer of 2003. Another scan revealed that a tumor had formed in the duct between her pancreas and liver. It was inoperable. The best they could do is treat her with harsh chemo. She got jaundiced because her liver could not function properly. She was hospitalized. One day at the hospital, Dad and I were talking about multivitamins. Mom and Dad always took them. I never did. Mom said, “You don’t eat healthy. You need the vitamins to be sure you get what you need.” I said, “Mom, you’re in a hospital bed. You’re in no condition to be giving speeches about health.” She laughed really hard. I always felt good when I could make her laugh.
Our primary doctor came by one day to see her. He asked Dad and I to come out into the hallway. He got out a note pad and drew a rough sketch of the digestive system. He drew a circle around the duct where the tumor was. He said, “If chemo doesn’t work, her body will shut down. It will be her demise.” He was saying out loud what we already knew: Mom’s chances of survival were slim.
She was released from the hospital. Her color improved some, but her movements were slow. She couldn’t work. She was basically shut in. She would feel good enough some days to want to go out to eat, but when she and Dad got to the restaurant, she couldn’t eat. One day as she was walking to the bathroom, she fell. She didn’t break anything, but we knew something was wrong. We took her to her oncologist in a wheelchair. As I sat beside her in the waiting room, I noticed that she wasn’t looking directly at things. I said, “Mom, can you see me?” She turned in my direction, but she didn’t look me in the eyes. “Sure,” she said. But I knew she couldn’t. I was convinced she was blind. She had had a mini stroke. She wasn’t in the doctor’s office long. When Dad brought her back to the waiting room, he just looked at me and shook his head. I knew what He meant.
That was on Monday. Hospice came to the house on Tuesday and said she had two weeks to live, tops. She was still alert, though. She knew she was dying. Family and friends streamed into the house all week. Dad’s best man and his wife drove from Chattanooga to see her. People brought food. Stories were told. My niece, who was only four years old, fed mom ice chips. Then the end came. Mom fell asleep for the last time, at home, surrounded by her husband, three sons, her brother and sister.
She never got to experience the retired life. She never got to spend money on herself. She didn’t get to travel to the places she always wanted to go when she retired. That always bothered me. But she got to retire from this world of sin and death and receive her eternal reward. And that’s the best retirement. And for that, I am thankful.