69: My Mother, the Fighter

69: My Mother, the Fighter

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Best Mom Ever!

My Mother, the Fighter

You never know how strong you are, until being strong is the only choice you have.

~Bob Marley

During the twenty-seven years that I was blessed to have my mother, she spent most of her time battling multiple sclerosis, which was diagnosed at age forty-one. Multiple sclerosis is a neurological disorder that is characterized by exacerbations and remissions. It has no cure and each exacerbation is stronger than the one before. MS robbed my mother of her independence and her ability to walk, but she never stopped fighting to get better. In fact, she constantly confounded her neurologist by making strong recoveries after each attack. Her doctor had several patients with MS, but many of them only survived a few years after the onset of symptoms. My mother was still fighting after seventeen years.

My mother’s MS struck for the final time in April 2005. Her breathing became compromised and she had to have a tracheotomy and use a respirator. Her doctors repeatedly tried to talk her out of such invasive procedures, but if medicine offered an option that could help her, she wanted it. Unfortunately, in September of that year she slipped into a coma. I hoped that she would make one of her legendary recoveries. However, the days turned into weeks and her doctors gathered my family for a meeting. We needed to decide if we wanted to let my mother stay in a coma indefinitely, or remove her respirator and begin hospice care.

I was my mother’s health care proxy but I was only in my twenties. I wanted help so I spoke with the neurologist who had treated my mother for the past seventeen years. I had a frank conversation with him about how MS progresses as a disease and where my mother fit on that timeline. I also sought advice from my pastor, and a paternal aunt and uncle who were very close to me.

I prayed and hoped that my mother, the fighter, would return. She was only fifty-eight. During her life she had been a pianist, a writer, a lecturer, and most importantly, she was a fighter. She was also my best friend.

When I thought about how hard she’d fought to keep MS at bay, I wondered if I even had a right to consider removing her from life support. Wouldn’t she have wanted her fight to continue? However, if she did awake from her coma, I asked myself, what kind of world would she return to? I had to look at her quality of life. Her MS had progressed to the point where it was preventing her lungs from functioning. If she did awake from her coma, she would have to use a respirator for the rest of her life and multiple sclerosis would continue to attack her body. Her vital signs also revealed that as she lingered in a coma, her body was beginning to fail.

Growing up, I always sought my mother’s wisdom any time I had to make an important decision in life. I couldn’t do that this time. However, after days of soul searching, I knew the best decision I could make for her was to let her go. I instructed my mother’s doctors to remove her from her respirator. I knew that once they did this, she would not survive long. However, for the first time in weeks, I was able to sleep soundly. I was confident that I had made the right decision.

Normally my mother was the fighter in our family; however, during her final days, it was my time to fight. I had to fight fear; I had to fight hurt; I had to fight doubt. I had to find the courage and confidence to make the best decision for someone who had put her trust in me. This time I heartbreakingly realized that I wasn’t supposed to fight to keep her here. I was supposed to fight to let her go.

~Peyton Woodson Cooper

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