Daisy was born on 30 October, 2009. When she learned Daisy was going to arrive, mum used Doctor Google to find out all about the process and got very upset. Let’s face it; Google rarely makes anything medical pretty.
I tried to help. I tried to find positive images, real stories. Things that would help mum balance out a little. I sent her what I could find.
My mother questioned her doctor at length and instructed him as much as she could about what she wanted Daisy to look like. She decided that even if she couldn’t control everything, at least she’d be forewarned about what to expect. She’d know if the worst of Google’s images were going to be part of her own body. His answers reassured her and she began to come to terms with it all.
When Daisy was born, mum and dad managed her in the same way they did everything. Together. It was a lifestyle adjustment. There were accessories to be bought, lessons in how to care for Daisy, and ways to manage clothing, travel, all the things you take for granted when you’re a healthy 60-something woman who’s never had a sick day in your life.
My mother didn’t have time for colon cancer. A woman who spent her life doing work with her church, the children’s group, running the kiosk at the nursing home, and teaching other ladies how to make beautiful craftwork. My mum redefined the word, “busy,” and there was simply no space for doctors, tests, second opinions and changing verdicts. But all the doctors agreed that without this operation there was no doubt she would die. She slowly gave away those regular activities that defined her and instead spent more and more time living the word “patient.”
Like a marathon she didn’t want to run, the colostomy was something she prepared for. There was going to be an outlet on her stomach, a stoma, and mum wanted to understand everything she could. The practicalities as well as the emotional realities, and how this might change her life.
But while she didn’t want to have the colostomy, she certainly didn’t make time to feel sorry for herself. She had a sign in her craftroom that said, “No matter what you’re going through, someone else has bigger problems.” That sign’s still there.
Then one day at about the same time my mum had her operation, she read how a lady had named her stoma, “Rosebud.” It struck a chord.
Mum decided to name her stoma too. For reasons known only to her, she decided on Daisy. And that’s what everyone called it. Her doctors, nurses, our family… everyone. Naming Daisy made it okay. Talking about Daisy in the third person, was something that removed the situation from a result of illness and somehow intoa realm of acceptance. It might seem strange, well – what stoma wouldn’t – but naming it gave everyone a reference point.
As mum began to adjust to her new routines, she came up with a sentence. “Daisy lives with me; I don’t live with Daisy.” This was mum’s way of saying that her lifestyle came first, and Daisy was going to just have to come along for the ride. As in any relationship, there were difficult moments. There were tears. But it seemed to me very quickly that mum took control and made the whole thing just work. There were even funny Daisy stories to tell. Ulitmately, and ironically, the arrival of Daisy meant mum could get back to normal again. Scans showed no more colon cancer and Daisy did what she came to do.
Mum had learned to swim a few years earlier, after private lessons and group lessons with other ladies, she took to the water and honestly enjoyed it for the first time in her life. When Daisy was born, it stopped her from swimming for a while. But then mum decided it was time. And she swam. With Daisy. And she was proud of the way she had managed, not only to learn to swim, but to do it with her new addition.
I was proud too. Nothing stopped my mum.
When Daisy turned one, mum had a party. She made invitations to Daisy’s 1st birthday and invited some special friends and family over. Not so many to be showy; just enough to be special. Thankfully, dad stopped mum from making Daisy a birthday cake – that would have been just a little over the top, even for my mum. But if she had, I’m sure everyone would have loved it. The party went off without a hitch. Everyone laughed and celebrated that my mum was with us.
Because for everyone in my family and in my mum’s life who knew about Daisy, she took the stigma out of colon cancer. She said it was okay to talk about it. Naming it took away the fear, not just for my mum, but for everyone.
Unfortunately while the colon cancer was fixed by the birth of Daisy, that insidious, nasty, unfair disease decided her liver was a good place to send its cells to. My mother passed away last year, three years after her original diagnosis. When we were in the hospice and the cancer ravaged her body, it took a toll on Daisy as well. The hospice doctor asked if she could take a picture of Daisy and use it to show the medical students for their education. The doctor promised to delete the picture afterwards.
“Oh, please don’t feel you have to delete the picture. If what I’m going through can help someone else, then keep it and use it.”
I don’t know if the doctor actually did delete the image. But I know mum believed having Daisy with her gave her two more years of life that she wouldn’t have had otherwise. I know that mum was grateful for it. I know mum wanted people to know, and that she’d want you to hear it. I heard her tell her doctors she was grateful for their work.