A lot has been swirling in my brain these past few months, so today is the day to share it. Here it goes….
Twenty-three years ago, I had just lost my Mom to cancer.
That Fall, I was just entering my senior year of college. Most kids were excited about the last year; some had jobs or grad school line up. Most were out whooping it up on the weekends at house parties or the local watering holes. However, my senior year had a different view. My world had just been completely turned upside down. I was sad, mad, lonely, and felt very lost. Nobody could relate to me– most hadn’t experienced loss or watched a loved one suffer from a life-ending disease. Instead of going out, I spent time at the library or in my room crying myself to sleep.
It was my Mom’s last dying wish to see me graduate, so the fact that stage four Ovarian Cancer took her before that had left me feeling all the emotions, as you can imagine. I didn’t know how to cope, deal or move on in my senior year (or even my post college years for that matter).
In her four year battle, she had four kids and two grandkids as a reminder to keep pushing through the chemo, the sick days, the hair loss, the colostomy bag and many surgeries and relapses. She had an amazing job that she worked so hard at. She was a nurse her entire career until she moved into medical device sales when I was in 8th grade. My Mom was a fighter through and through, everyone knew that because it was in her bones and DNA. She was healthy, a runner actually. She touched so many lives in her nursing and sales career and everyone loved her smile, energy and personality. She had SO many people rooting for her, but she protected those super close to her by taking on cancer by herself initially. I remember her telling me she had to go in for just a little surgery, sparing me the fact that it was stage four Ovarian Cancer. I know she wanted to protect me, and save me from worry being that I was only 17. But as a worry-wart by nature, even if I didn’t know the whole story I was always worrying. I was her “Pina-Colada” as she called me, the youngest of the four kids by seven years. I know she didn’t want to tell me how bad it was, because she was determined to beat it. But we all know now, that Ovarian Cancer is a silent one– often undetected until it’s too late (and yes I get extra screenings each year now). She was sick off and on for four years. She even beat cancer a few times and went into remission; but that final year it reared it’s ugly head with more force and audacity.
During the summer she passed away, I was home from college. It was so hard to watch her be sick and slowly fade away. I watched with one eye if that makes sense. I couldn’t even imagine life without her, so I didn’t even go there. This was my Mom, I needed her. I was young, and she was my rock. I didn’t talk about the “what if” scenarios. When it really got bad at the end I know she couldn’t even look at me without tears in her eyes or her heart breaking because she was so worried about me. Who would take care of me, would I be ok, what did my future hold?
But as a young 21 year old, I was in denial that I was losing her. I stayed so busy that final summer- with a nanny job, softball games, and spending time with the boyfriend or friends. We had family members rotating shifts at our house so I wasn’t alone in caring for her- she was hooked up to IVs for food, and she had a colostomy bag. I think I probably knew what was coming, but I shoved it out of my mind and just stayed busy- being with her when I was home and helping her. She moved to the hospital the last few weeks of her life. It was at the U of M Cancer Center, so it was a bit of a drive from Stillwater. I went to visit, but of course still tried to stay busy nannying and playing softball. When the end was near, a sibling had to tell me to quit my nanny job, and to also get to the hospital STAT because the end was getting near. It was hard to go, my heart was breaking. But we took shifts that last week of being with her around the clock and on her final day, I did tell her all the things I wanted to tell her. I gave her permission to go, if she needed to and that I would be OK eventually. I felt like she was hanging on as she was worried about me. All of us would take this hard, but the others had homes, jobs and significant others. It was after I left the hospital that she decided it was her time to go to Heaven. I believe she chose to wait until I was gone, because if I had been there there’s no way I would have been able to deal with it. Getting the call at home a few hours later, and going back to the hospital to officially say good-bye is forever etched in my mind and brain. I fell to the floor, I couldn’t breathe and I had a panic attack. Typing that out makes my hair stand up and brings tears to my eyes still.
I didn’t come to terms with my emotions or recognize them after she was gone. I never talked to anyone besides maybe two close people I confided in. I didn’t take care of me, and I went into a downward spiral the years after her death. Emotional eating, anxiety and some self-destructive behaviors crept in during my early 20s. I gained 40 pounds over time. I felt lost, frustrated and stuck. Most of my friends loved their jobs, or were getting married- and here I was going through the motions with a job I didn’t love, and not really knowing who I was, what I wanted or where I was going. And as for dating? I wasn’t close to being ready to settle down in my 20s with really needed to work on ME, love ME, before I could love someone else.
Fast forward, I had years to work on ME when I was ready to. I started exercising, eating better, coping with my anxiety and finding what made ME happy. I found passion and energy in life again. I began running. I ran my first marathon at the age of 28 as a way to show her and myself that I was strong and I’d be OK, even if life sucked without her. I lost 40 pounds over the next year after the marathon and fell in love with fitness, so I started to pursue a career in fitness on the side of my corporate job. I then met my husband because I truly loved ME and found the piece of my heart that was missing. When my corporate years came to an end so I could stay at-home and raise kids, I jumped into heath and fitness full force with Personal Training and virtual wellness coaching and being my own boss. Life happened to me early, but it made me dig deep, spend time with myself, have life experiences like travel and meeting people all over and it helped shaped me into the person I am today!
Now at 44, I am going through a similar health experience with my Dad. Stage Two Diabetes has reared its ugly head in his body after 20 years. This summer he had two (partial) foot amputations, many hospital stays and months in transitional care. He went home over Labor Day for three days finally, but came down with an infection so back to the hospital he went. A week stay that time around and some more scary days, we weren’t sure which direction he was headed but he turned a corner thankfully. Back to Transitional Care he goes to get stronger and cared for by professionals. So this journey continues, and once again watching a parent suffer, and go through trauma is extremely difficult. Not knowing what could happen is extremely difficult. Having really rough patches and then good days throws your mind and emotions for loops.
But this time, the view is a little different for me……..
Is it unfair to go through this twice? Yep, I am not in denial this time. I am letting myself feel all the feelings- scared, fear, mad, resentful, etc… I am taking care of myself this time- workouts (for stress-relief and me time) and eating. My daily exercise habits are there, and there’s no way I am letting them go during a time where I need an outlet the most! It’s what makes me feel stronger inside and out, so I can go be a strong daughter. I am pouring my heart and soul into being one of his cheerleaders, motivators and caretakers. I’m the schedule lady, keeping track of all of his appointments and getting all the calls from social workers or clinics. I am there pretty much every other day, checking in on him, advocating for his health, and being one of his rocks (he is lucky to have four kids and a girlfriend to support him, along with lots of friends). This time I am not running away, but I’m right front and center. This time around I am having the hard conversations even with him- and helping him stay strong mentally so he can push past those really hard days. Yes it’s emotionally taxing to help someone fight for life, but it’s worth every second. It’s hard to be “on” in that way and then come home and be “on” as a Mom and Health Motivator in my job. But I can do it. It’s a season of life, and it may be the new normal but I’ll adjust. I was young the first time around, I didn’t know how to balance life and trauma. This time around, I am a Mom, Wife and Health Motivator. Coaching people is what I do. I can be the rock he needs because I work on me, I have worked on me for over 20 years, and I have a gift to offer.
I have a group of ladies that I coach virtually, and they remind me to keep showing up for me each day in my health so I can be STRONG for my Dad and my kids and husband. There are days I don’t feel strong, but after a workout it reminds me that I am. I signed up for a 10-mile race this October because I once again, want a goal to keep me mentally and physically challenged so I can remind myself how strong I am. (It’s just my thing I like to do to give myself a mental push as that spreads into my life in other places if that makes sense).
So yes, I am here again. But the view looks different this time. I am older, stronger and wiser but the message is the same! Life throws you for loops and it’s unfair at times but you “NEVER GIVE UP.” You don’t give up on you, and you remind others to not give up in their battles too! I remind my Dad everyday of this, and myself. I couldn’t speak those words out loud to my Mom, but she knew. She knew I had to do what I needed to do to cope.
Whatever battle you are going through – don’t give up. Life will try to knock you down, but I am here to remind you that you are strong. You can do hard things, and you can help others do hard things too! It’s going to suck, it’s going to wear on you– but you WILL come out stronger if you persevere and lean into others, shut the white noise out (the things that don’t matter or can’t be paid attention to), don’t get too far ahead, and take care of you (exercise, sleep if possible, eating good 80% of the time, mediation, yoga or mindfulness- whatever helps you).
My passion for health is even stronger, cancer took my life best friend and Diabetes is trying to take another life best friend. Yep, I’m here again, but the view is different this time. My mind, body, and spirit is stronger from life experiences. My mission is to help others take care of themselves too, because you never know when others may need you to be strong!
I am #daughterstrong x2.