During the month of October, eSalon, an online custom hair color brand delivering custom color to your doorstep, is donating a portion of their proceeds to CancerCare. CancerCare is a national organization that provides professional support services and information at no cost to individuals and families affected by cancer. They help 180,000 people each year by providing services such as counseling, support groups, financial assistance, and educational workshops. When I saw that eSalon was making such a great commitment to #SpreadHope by supporting CancerCare and their cause, I knew I wanted to share my own story to help #SpreadHope as well.
I’m Tenille. Over the years I’ve held many titles and had many roles: visual artist, singer, sister, friend, flight attendant, songwriter, and social worker, just to name a few. My newest role is “mom” to a beautiful 1 year old girl. My oldest role is daughter, to an amazing woman named Neva. Although she is no longer living, her love, strength, and guidance has made the greatest impact on me and molded me into who I am today.
In 2013, I was in a studio session recording music, when my mother called me and asked me to come home because she wasn’t feeling well. I left that session and found my mother writhing in pain in her bed and holding her stomach. I stayed with her that night, rubbing her back, and doing whatever I could to ease her pain. Fast forward to June 2014, my mother called me, this time after I had gotten to my new home in another state from my job as a flight attendant. She told me that she had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer).
Cholangiocarcinoma or Bile duct cancer is an aggressive form of cancer with only about 2,500 new cases diagnosed in the U.S. each year. It is a slow-growing cancer that is often diagnosed late in the disease process, after the bile ducts become blocked and symptoms resulting from the blockage arise.
I flew to visit her almost immediately. When I arrived, she greeted me at the door at least 20lbs lighter than she was 2 months prior and with neon yellow eyes. She was jaundiced and losing weight because she could not keep food down. We sat down at the kitchen table and she asked me, “Do I look different?” I said “yes” and cried. I knew then that life as I knew it would change. But I didn’t know how quickly or how drastically it would.
My mother, younger sister, and I went to doctor’s appointment after doctor’s appointment waiting to hear news that would give us hope. My mother received a stent procedure to alleviate some of her symptoms. We were told that the tumor surrounding her bile ducts was inoperable. She was given medication for nausea, pills to increase her potassium levels, and pain pills (none of which she could keep down), and treated for dehydration…Sick of this cycle, we sought out a specialty cancer hospital.
At this time, my mother was severely dehydrated, in and out of consciousness, and going into septic shock. The first day we brought her to the specialty cancer hospital, she was immediately admitted to their inpatient facility. There, she received an emergency surgical repair of a hole in her stomach. She was also treated for sepsis, put on tpn (total parenteral nutrition), and given time to recover. She eventually received a jejunostomy which improved her ability to eat and drink by mouth. After months in the hospital, she was eventually able to come home. I had already taken leave from my job as a flight attendant to care for her, and eventually resigned.
As a songwriter, I often wrote about love, but I truly learned about real love in caring for my mother. She started taking chemo treatments after she had recovered from her surgeries and gained most of her weight back. We saw glimmers of hope when receiving updates from the results of her chemo treatments. Those glimmers were fought back with new infections, and new hospital admissions…then all of her hair came out. Soon we were told that the chemo was too dangerous to give her and that she was no longer a candidate for treatment. We eventually chose to provide hospice care at home. With much support from friends and family, she was able to thrive at home until she passed away on January 29, 2016.
Beauty in the Battle
My mother was a beautiful person inside and out. She could make you laugh, give you great advice, and she made friends wherever she went. At the hospital, she made friends with most of the nurses and staff. Although she was battling bile duct cancer, she kept a positive attitude and shared plenty doses of her humor. She was a devoted Christian and found hope in reading and hearing scriptures from the Bible.
When her hair fell out, she didn’t want to look at herself in the mirror. What was happening to her was not her. She still put on lipstick and a scarf or cap and kept pushing. Somehow, she often seemed at peace amidst the storm raging about her. When I really think about it, aside from her religious/spiritual foundation, I believe she found peace in knowing that she had equipped her daughters with everything she could to ensure that we were able to survive and thrive in life.
I believe my mother found comfort in knowing what she was leaving behind: Her legacy. She had given her all, poured into us her unconditional love, her gifts and talents, her love for music, her skillful cooking, her resourcefulness, her wit, humor, and charm. She was confident that we would be able to take everything she left behind and use it to better navigate this world.
The Importance of What We Leave Behind
Death is inevitable, for everyone. There is no hiding and no running from it. We will all go, somehow, someway. But what I believe is more important is how we live and what we leave behind when we go. What is your legacy? What parts of you will people hold onto when you’re gone and why? Did you inspire them? Did you teach them something valuable? Were you kind? Did you help them to have hope?
I urge you to pack up hate, fear, pridefulness, anger, unforgiveness, selfishness, and stubbornness. Don’t take it with you, but send it far, far away. I encourage you to leave behind all your love,… shower people with it, leave it in little notes or in the things you do. Give out hugs, leave behind a history of kindness and being good to people. Leave behind your knowledge, your wisdom and all the lessons so that someone can learn from them. Leave behind your smile so someone will remember it and do the same. I encourage you to #SpreadHope