Storytime. (I share this with permission from my mom, since it’s largely about her.)
It was Thanksgiving, and my siblings and I converged on my parents’ house to enjoy a non-traditional feast (which my sister still insists we need to redo). I arrived first, on Wednesday evening, and was surprised to find my mom struggling to walk. She could move a bit, with assistance, but it caused her a great deal of pain. I knew she had been having some pain issues, but I had no idea it had gotten so severe. On Thanksgiving Day, she was moving from place to place using a rolling desk chair. That evening I tearfully begged her to go to the hospital (she is stubborn like me). On Friday we brought her to the hospital for an iron infusion and got her admitted (don’t even get me started on the frustration of being told they might not be able to admit a patient who cannot even walk for unknown reasons…thankful for the doctor who did some creative guessing at an admittable diagnosis).
Immediately my mom’s condition improved. She wasn’t walking right away, but she had color back, and her humor returned. She had so many needles stuck in her (guess who was the only one who stayed to hold her hand during those parts, buncha wimps), but she was getting help and that made all the difference. She was still there when I left on Sunday that weekend, but was able to go home early the following week. She was determined not to stay longer than necessary. Like I said. Stubborn.
That hurdle jumped, we thought we were done with health crises for the time being. However, the dawn of the new year brought more bad news. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, and at the same time some precancerous polyps were found in her uterus, prompting the necessity of a hysterectomy.
Those diagnoses knocked the wind right out of my New Year’s sails. It didn’t seem fair for my mom, my best friend, to be going through so much all at once. But every time we talked, she told me she was fine. I yelled at her, telling her she couldn’t POSSIBLY be fine because did she even KNOW what was going on in her body?? But still, she insisted she was fine. The doctors were on it. She had procedures scheduled. It didn’t make sense to wallow in the what-ifs as long as she was doing everything in her power to take care of her health.
She continued to insist she was fine. She had the breast cancer removed, and they got it all. It was a very small pocket. See? she said. No big deal. And then it got infected. Right before her hysterectomy was scheduled. While I wailed and screamed at God because it was unfair, my mom remained optimistic (for the most part) and hopeful that the hysterectomy could go as scheduled.
I planned to drive up for her hysterectomy, to sit with my dad during the procedure, to stay and help out after the fact. And then the snowstorm hit. One of the only ones we even had this winter, of course. I was stuck in Iowa, and the interstate to the city where the surgery was to take place was closed. My parents sat at the entrance to the interstate until the bar raised and they were able to make their slow and careful way to the hospital.
My sister and I made it up to my parents’ the day after the surgery, when Mom was coming home. I have never seen someone so cheerful after surgery. She was making jokes left and right (she apologized for throwing away all my little brothers and sisters) and it was only partially due to the anesthetic. In reality, it was that same attitude shining through, the optimism, the sheer determination to see the bright side no matter how dark the circumstances. Despite having abdominal surgery, she was up and around within a couple of days. She joked with my dad about him having to give her shots (he had to get over that squeamishness from November). She laughed and played as best she could with my three-year-old niece, who came with my brother to provide entertainment.
When the test results came back confirming endometrial cancer, it wasn’t a surprise. But they got it all. They weren’t worried it had spread. The doctor was optimistic that it would stay gone.
Last week, my mom completed her final radiation treatment for the breast cancer. She’ll have to have check-ups a few times a year for a while, but her focus now is on getting healthier in general, which will help reduce the likelihood of relapse.
So what’s the point of all of this?
I watched my mom go through all of these health crises with more grace than I sometimes have when dealing with a papercut. This is not to say that she didn’t have moments of weakness, of despair, of being completely overwhelmed. I was terrified, and it wasn’t happening directly to me. I can’t even imagine some of the things my mom thought about in the quiet of the night, while two types of cancer dwelled simultaneously in her body, threatening to take everything from her.
The point is that we all have a choice in how we deal with tragedy, with setbacks, with frustrations. There’s no one right or wrong way, but I do know that your attitude can change everything.
I recently had an unexpected setback in writing world. It knocked me off my feet, and I knew I had a choice. I could continue to lay there on the ground, wallowing in the muck of my feelings, or I could pull myself up and take the next step. I cried for a day, and by the next day I was ready to move forward. I channeled my mom’s incredible attitude and stubbornness/determination and started planning for the future. In that case, the attitude change came more gradually, but I knew if I started going through the motions, the attitude would catch up, and I was right.
It’s okay to feel whatever feelings there are, to sit in them for a while. In fact, the movie Inside Out would insist on it. But there comes a point where wallowing is only making it worse, and you have to move forward one way or another. You can choose to do so under protest, fighting the entire way, or you can work to change the attitude with which you approach things. It’s not easy, but it is ultimately your choice. It’s your life. You decide how you want to live it.
I choose to emulate my bad-ass mama, and face the world with as positive an attitude as I can muster. Sometimes it’s the only weapon I have.