A day after my 21st birthday, my darkest nightmare came to life. My mother, Sue Elmblad, was diagnosed with stage IV angiosarcoma, a rare and aggressive cancer. I was depressed and hopeless and unsure of where to turn for help. I was just beginning my senior year of college and believed I needed to drop out, at least for the semester. However, my mother encouraged me to stay in school. She said she would be at my graduation in the spring, whether physically or in spirit.
After my mother was diagnosed, she spent a couple of days at home and then went to Froedtert Medical Hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to begin treatment. She was in the hospital for a little less than three weeks. During that time, I would travel up to Milwaukee on an almost every day basis when I was finished with my classes. Milwaukee is a little less than an hour away from my home in Kenosha. Sometimes I would go by myself. Other days I would travel with my dad, sisters, or my boyfriend.
My mom had good days and bad days while in the hospital. I always knew she was having a good day by her attitude. My mother was a very spunky, opinionated lady, so I knew she was having an “okay” day if she was cracking a joke or two. We would watch our favorite shows and movies together. I would hold her hand when the doctors came in to adjust her or give her a medication. Sometimes, we would sit in quiet or take a nap if that is what she wanted.
However, the good days started to become few and far between in such a short period of time. I could tell my mom was in excruciating physical and emotional pain. It was very hard to see such a strong, tenacious woman deteriorate so quickly. One instance stands out to me which made me realize the outlook was not looking good. I remember one night I went to grab dinner at the cafeteria. I came back to her room and was not allowed to enter because my mom had just passed out while in the bathroom and hit her head on the floor. The nurses were in the room taking her vitals and making sure she was alright. I broke down in the middle of the hallway. When kissing her good night before heading back to Kenosha, she told me how sorry she was. My heart still sinks in my chest today that she felt the need to apologize to her loved ones. Also, she said goodbye to my boyfriend, Zach, on this night and told him to take care of me. This made me come to the realization the end was near.
A little less than two weeks into her stay in the hospital, my mom was transported to the ICU after having severe internal bleeding and fluid buildup in her body. When I entered the room on this day, my mom told me she was not going to be with us much longer. I tried so hard not to cry when she told me this, but I broke down. I cried the entire night, to the point where my eyes were swollen shut. The next day, my entire family was in the ICU room together. We gathered around my mom, joined hands, and said the Lord’s Prayer together. Later that evening, my mom started to improve and was even transported into a regular patient room. As soon as she was settled in her room, she took a turn for the worst, and her kidneys shut down that night.
The following day was a Monday. Monday, September 22nd, 2014 to be exact. I had early morning classes. I tried to keep my life as normal as I possibly could during this time. I thought I would visit the hospital later in the day. Around noon, I received a phone call from my dad that my mom was being transported from the hospital by ambulance to the Hospice Alliance House in Kenosha. I figured I would visit her there in a few hours after taking care of what I needed to. However, my sister called me an hour later telling me I needed to get to the Hospice House as soon as I possibly could.
I rushed to the Hospice House. When I arrived, my family and close friends were gathered around my mother. She was struggling to breath and non-responsive. I was in a state of disbelief. I took my mom’s hand. I told her I loved her with all of my heart and thanked her for everything she had done for me. My sister came in the room and grabbed onto her other hand. It was at that moment my mom took her last breath. It’s as if she had waited until all of her family could make it. Before leaving the room, my family said the Lord’s Prayer together one last time.
The following days were emotional. Funeral preparations began. Family and friends offered their condolences and support. One day, we went to the cemetery to pick out a burial place and stone for my mother. The lady we met with told us we would know the correct resting place since we would feel my mom’s presence with us. I was emotionally exhausted at this point, and quite frankly, I believed she was crazy I would “feel” anything. However, she took us out to the most beautiful, perfect spot I could have ever imagined. The space was right behind a statue with the Lord’s Prayer on it. I still get chills to this day when I think of this moment. I truly believe my mother had guided the woman and us on this day. I was given a sense of hope that my mother is with me always. Whenever I need my mother’s guidance, I say the Lord’s Prayer to myself, and I find my strength.
It has been two, almost three years, since my mother passed away. So much has happened in these past few years. I graduated college, began my career as a paraprofessional in the Kenosha Unified School District, started coaching a dance team, and even won a pageant, something I thought I would never do again without my loudest cheerleader in the audience. I have found my strength knowing my mother is with me, and I strive to make her proud in all I do. My advice to any person who is dealing with a loved one’s medical diagnosis or death is to find a support network. This network can be your friends, family, coworkers, a counseling group, or God. Surround yourself with people who lift you up and make you feel hopeful when all you see and feel is darkness.