I was driving my car at 10 p.m. some Thursday last October. The two and a half hour trip was very familiar to me. I drove two and a half hours this way at least once a week, and I drove two and a half hours back at least once a week so I could go to class.

I hated this trip. The only way I could stand it was driving at night – definitely too fast – blasting my music and knowing that this weekend might be the last I’d see my mom, and if I didn’t come, I would regret it for the rest of my life.

When I’d found out my mother had pancreatic cancer a year before, I knew we didn’t have much time left together. Still, aside from regular trips to the hospital for tests, operations, and chemotherapy and radiation, until September, my mom had seemed exactly as she had before we found out she had cancer.

She’d had thyroid cancer before, had had treatment for it a few years earlier, and had beaten it. She had minimized the importance of having thyroid cancer. My sister and I were never aware of the severity of the problem. We were younger, though. She didn’t want us to worry.

But when we found out it was pancreatic cancer this time, we knew it was bad. The five year survival rate for white women with pancreatic cancer from the initial diagnosis is only 4.2 percent. When my mom had first been diagnosed, the doctors seemed optimistic about treatment. They’d found it early. It hadn’t spread anywhere, yet.

They tried a surgery to remove the growth. And afterward they’d thought it a success, though the growth was larger than expected and they had to cut out more than they’d planned. They still recommended taking chemotherapy and having radiation treatments.

In the following year, we had some good news and bad news. Her carcinoembryonic antigen levels, or cancer markers, were low in January. She was having a lot of back pain in May. Tests were “inconclusive” in June. By August, nearly a year since the original diagnosis, my mom was looking at pain management medications rather than at treatments.

She’d known she would only go so far with her treatments. If she only had five years to live, how did she want to spend those years? Not in hospitals. Not so weak that she could barely move. An exceptionally proud and independent woman, she didn’t want to be a burden on her family, and she didn’t want to live as a complete dependent on anyone for any length of time.

Driving home, I knew what I would find. My sister would be watching something in the family room with my mom dozing in the wheelchair we’d had brought in when it became too much for her to walk even within the house, her legs propped up so they wouldn’t swell, too stubborn to go to bed before 11 p.m. because it was too far off from her usual, pre-cancer schedule.

Her room was right next to the family room, but even that was too far away. She’d had the house built two years earlier with that room in mind for when she got older – so she wouldn’t have to go up and down the stairs every day. She’d lived the last thirty years in Maryland and the last eight of those – since she and my father told us they were getting divorced – wishing she lived by the beach. This house in Delaware finally fulfilled that dream, only 15 minutes from a number of nice beaches. She was diagnosed only three and a half months after she’d moved in.

I dreaded going home. I dreaded seeing my mom so tired, weak, frail. Changed from a vivacious woman to one who had begun to waste away, her once full frame now felt like a skeleton with thin skin covering the bones.

I didn’t want to go home. I wanted to stay at school for one weekend and have a normal part of this strenuous semester. I wanted to spend time with my friends rather than take care of my dying mother. I wanted a quiet weekend where I wouldn’t have to wake up every two hours to give my mom medication, where I could relax.

I didn’t want to spend another weekend with my sister, my aunt who would drive down from New Jersey, and my uncle who would be coming in from Philadelphia.

I know that I didn’t have much longer with my mom, and yet I didn’t want to spend what little time we had left together with her. To me, it was more difficult to see her in her weakened state, and I wanted to avoid it as much as possible. I wasn’t able to ask her all the questions I wanted to ask. I wasn’t able to tell her everything I wanted her to know. I wasn’t able to do so much with her that I wanted to. And even though I went up every weekend, and I couldn’t have done these things with her in her state at the time, I despise that I didn’t want to be with her, that I didn’t have whatever time we had left for whatever we could do in that time.

Written in 2009.