My mom starts chemotherapy tomorrow. It feels like my two feet are reaching to stand in four separate corners. Doctor, Daughter, Mom and Wife. Four corners. Except nothing about the sky looks like Utah right now.
I’m caught in the middle of a generational sandwich. I’ve started to understand that taking care of those older than me and those younger than me (while, at the same time, attempting to tend to myself) may define adulthood. This week I awoke to the sobering reality that I’m a real grown-up. Good morning, Sunday, meet me, Grown-Up number 221005. It seems I’ve finally earned the title.
Titles tend to follow set milestones in life. You finish your twelfth year and you’re a teenager. Eighteen and you’re a voter. Finish college, you’re an adult. Finish Med school and they call you Doctor. Yet often, these titles are granted asynchronously from earnest accomplishment or achievement.
Take the example of being called, “Doctor.” When I was a resident working in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), one supervising physician set me straight. After an absolutely wretched night that I will remember for the rest of my life, we sat down to round at about 8am. I’d been up all night as a senior resident caring for premature infants, running to resuscitate premature infants at deliveries, assisting and working with nurses in the NICU, and witnessing the death of two infants. It was a tragic night. I’d just filled out a death certificate and tidied up my to do list for the morning when we sat down to review our patients. My sage attending said, “Dr Swanson, every day someone calls you ‘Doctor.’ Every once and a while, you earn the title.”
It turns out, this might be another opportunity for me to earn my other title, daughter.
Up to this point, I’ve been fairly academic, intellectual, and doctorly about my mom’s cancer diagnosis. I hide out in the numbers and the science of her disease. Sometimes it’s an easier place to be.
Tomorrow I venture out of the decimal points with my mom as daughter. At the cancer center, like my mom, I will hope and pray for the best while I wait for little miracles. But I am also scared. So, doctor is in there but daughter and grown-up sit more squarely in the center.
I can do this, Mom. Without hesitation. So can you.
Ever since I finished med school, my mom has had my name labeled in her e-mail, “Wendy Sue, MD, MBe, MDDtD.” MDDtD: My Darling Daughter the Doctor. Thanks for the confidence in my dual roles, Mom; I hope never to let you down.