A YEAR BEFORE her death from ovarian cancer, my 78-year-old mother finally started losing weight. She gave up fatty foods and sweets and went to herbalists who sold her pills that were supposed to regulate her digestion. In addition to all this, she was seeing her primary physician every three months.
The weight flying off seemed like a reward for her good behavior. The only downside was that my mother, who now weighed less than me, was burping all the time, as if there was thunder trapped inside her ever-shrinking body.
At Christmas time, I invited her to come spend the holidays with me and my family in Miami. At first she said no. Her birthday was three days after Christmas and she wanted to spend it at her home in New York.
She changed her mind right before Christmas, and she cooked us a wonderful Christmas dinner, and we took her to one of our favorite Haitian restaurants for her birthday. At her birthday dinner, my two daughters performed a birthday dance for her in the middle of the restaurant, and my usually reserved mother laughed and clapped with joy, a kind of joy we would rarely see again in the months that followed.
I took my mother to see my primary physician right after New Year’s. I could see an alarmed look on the doctor’s face as soon as she touched my mother’s stomach, which in spite of her weight loss was twice its usual size. The doctor, who is also a friend, asked me to touch my mother’s distended belly, and the spot where her fingers led me felt like a well-polished rock. She immediately started writing down a list of tests my mother would need.
Each test led to another, more-complicated test, and slowly both Mom and I realized that we were not on a quest to disprove something bad but on an expedition to identify how bad it was.