‘Life is good’
Senior copes with loss of mother
March 2, 2015
White coats. White walls. White floors. White noise.
Like ghosts, the haunting corridors of the too white, too clean, too confining hospital seemed to loom and cackle at the shuffling feet of the 18-year-old girl. She couldn’t keep still. Shadows tiptoed around her as the all-knowing doctors and sympathetic nurses hustled past her. They whispered the C word in hushed tones while more shadows flew up and under her eyes. She finally crept toward the familiar room where no shadows lived.
Only sunshine burst from her mother’s hospital bed and rays of warmth from a long hug and beams that dried the cloudy drizzles from her eyes. Though these moments seemed fleeting, they were senior Kallie Phillips’ lifeline as her mother battled stage four ovarian cancer.
Susan Phillips was diagnosed in May of last year. The cancer began in her ovaries and eventually spread to her liver, esophagus and kidneys. After months of treatment, Phillips passed away on Dec. 5, 2014.
“It blindsides you,” Kallie said. “She was losing a lot of weight and showing a lot of symptoms. We knew we had to act fast. The doctors were like, we need to get going on this because it could spread, and there were a lot of other problems.”
You don’t see it coming. You never expect it. [Dad and I] knew something was wrong with her, [we] just didn’t know what.”
The following week, she was in Houston being tested for a week to figure out what the doctors’ best strategy would be. While her mom stayed with her sister, Kallie’s visits at the hospital in Houston were sporadic throughout the summer.
“I went around softball and practices,” Kallie said. “Every time I went, I probably spent about five days down there, and then I’d come back. She didn’t get to come back until the beginning of July. When she started treatments, she would go down there for a few days, usually five days tops, then she’d come back. If she had to stay longer, I would visit her any time I could.”
Disappointing news were the only answers the doctors seemed to be able to provide the Phillips family.
“You just hope for the best because we literally got bad news every single time we turned around, like there was nothing good about any part of it,” Kallie said. “It was like you hoped the entire time, you were scared the entire time.”
Kallie was well aware of her mother’s condition and worked to build their relationship.
“Before we were just typical mom and daughter having sarcastic fights, but during, it escalated so quickly that it got so much more serious,” Kallie said. “I definitely knew that when I was with her, it had to be special because I knew about halfway through the six months, which is how long it took, that she’s not going to make it through this. I got a lot more serious about it, and I tried to get as close as possible, like every little moment.”
Kallie’s mom realized her pain and encouraged her to fight for both of them, to wrangle her sadness and to not let her cancer delay Kallie’s own life.
“She didn’t want me to stop living,” Kallie said. “She knew I was 18. She knew I was going to want to do things, and she wouldn’t let me stop. She wanted me with her constantly, but at the same time, when I had things to do like softball or going out with friends, I’d want to stay home or not go play. She wouldn’t let me. She was like ‘No, this is your life. You’ve got to live it. I can handle mine.’”
As Phillips’ health dwindled, she still remained a frequent comedic relief for Kallie, their family and her caregivers.
“On the good days, she was always on pain meds and stuff, but she was still herself, so she would always joke around,” Kallie said. “She was so sarcastic, such a smart alek. It was constantly funny, and I guess it’s not a good thing that she was always on pain meds, but she would never remember what she had said. Then we would always give her crap about it later. Even then, she still taught people and loved people. That’s why all of her doctors and nurses just loved her because on the good days, they knew they were going to come in there and visit with her for an hour.”
Although the good days outnumbered the bad ones, they took a toll on both Kallie and her mother. Kallie turned to prayer to help her through the rough times.
“The tough days were just hard to deal with,” Kallie said.
The tough days would go from her resting, and everything quiet to getting real tough and arguing. You know, you don’t want to argue with her because she’s so sick. Tough days were just tough. There’s no other way to put them. You do what you can, and you pray to make it through and hope that she would get to feeling better and pray that the next day will be a lot better than the last.”
Even the strongest person has a chink in their armor, and her mom’s was her persistent, headstrong attitude to want to nurse her daughter, instead of herself.
“She was never worried about her,” Kallie said. “When she found out, it was hard on her, but it would be hard on anybody. I don’t know how she felt about herself. I know she was scared, but she was always worried about me. So in that case, I never really found out how she felt about it, what her specific concerns were about herself because it was always her wanting me to be doing something, especially on her bad days. Even on the day she found out, she was just worried about me, and what I had done at school that day. It was never about her.”
After Phillips passed away, Kallie still treasured the time she had with her mother and appreciated the fact that she got to spend those limited moments knowing they had to count.
“[Waiting on her] was better for me, definitely,” Kallie said. “In a way, she knew it, but at the same time, she wanted to see me graduate. That’s what she told the doctors, so she was sort of still in denial. I don’t know if it helped her, but it helped me. I wouldn’t have made it this far without completely losing it.”
Their sense of each other’s feelings helped to support Kallie when her mom passed away. Their connection is one of the glues that keeps Kallie together today.
“My mom and I had this understanding, so I had prepared for it,” Kallie said. “I had prayed about it. In a way, there’s really no way to prepare for that, but once you come to an understanding, then you learn to accept it. Once you accept it, you can be sort of at peace with it. Then you can remember your mom for what she taught you and who she was. That’s really how you get through better than most people who haven’t yet accepted it.”
Kallie moved in with her father and is beginning to work on their rocky relationship.
“We definitely have gotten closer,” Kallie said.
We understand each other a lot more. My dad and I were never really close until this happened. I mean we were, but after this, we just kind of had to get close. I guess we’re just learning to live with each other. Literally.”
After a little over two months, Kallie is still managing to find different ways to cope and distract herself with the loss of her loving mother. She masks a brave face to keep up a happy persona to others.
“I have to constantly be doing something or be with somebody, like friends,” Kallie said. “Friends helped a ton. Everybody thinks that I’m all happy and always have to be with somebody, which is true, but really it’s just to get my mind off things with my mom and stuff that surrounded that. I always want to make people happy. I don’t want them to go through what I have, so I guess making other people happy is how I get through it. That’s what pushes me to not think about all of the things that hurt.”
Kallie’s mom chose to see the best in everyone and continually devoted her time and wisdom of spreading love and happiness to everybody. Kallie tries to live by her mom’s motto.
“There is one thing she always said, and it was ‘Life is good,’” Phillips said. “That’s what she always said to everybody. She loved those shirts that said that and that’s what she lived by. She was always happy. She always wanted to make everybody else feel loved and feel special. That’s really what she taught me, and I think that she’s one of the main reasons that that’s what I try to do for people. I think that’s one thing that I’ll become more and more like her even as I get older. She taught me more through her actions, through her life, but she always wanted me to have fun and just live because she always believed that life is good.”