I’m Back and I’m Staying

I have been absent from….well, absent from generally life as a whole, for a couple of weeks now. I was living in a haze, waiting. Waiting must be just about the worst of the worst things we have to go through in this life. Wait for the phone, wait for the light to change, wait for bus, wait for the kids, wait for the Dr, wait for Christmas, or Easter, or Halloween.  Wait to find out if you are dying, or not.

Oh, now you are wondering, “Did I read that right?”  Yes, yes you did. Wait to find out if you are dying, or not.  Now where did that come from? First, let’s do this. Pretend you have taken good care of yourself. You eat right, you exercise, you see your Doctor regularly and follow his directions. You do ever thing just right and then, wow, your Dr says, “You have cancer.” But then, he continues, “However, because we’ve caught this so early, I believe you have every chance to beat this.” Somewhat relieved you prepare. You talk to your family, explaining everything that is going to happen from here. They comfort you. They tell you how extremely wonderful it was that you stayed on top of everything. They reassure you that there was nothing more you could have done to prevent this. Every one is there to help you through this ordeal. You win. You beat it and you thank God that you stayed abreast of your health care needs.

What a wonderful story, right? Of course it is. Well, having cancer is not wonderful no matter the outcome. You will be scared. You are going to worry. You are going to need support from friends and family. You will be afraid of the dying aspect. And that fear is normal. It is to be expected. You will go through fear, sadness, anger, frustration, doubt, anxiety and grief. You are going to cry, laugh, swear, yell, fall apart, pull yourself back up, accept kindness from others, give comfort to those who love you, expect extra consideration, and insist on no special treatment. You will tell others to act like everything is normal and then cry when no one checks on you one day. You will love every one and then turn right around and hate them with a passion. But, this story, even with all that you will go through, comes out with a happy ending, because you took time to take care of yourself. You are fine.

Now, close your eyes and picture the following story in your mind. You are a busy person. You have so many people to care for. There is your mom and dad who are elderly now and you are caring for them.They live next door so you are always available to them. You have your youngest child still at home, attending college, working, keeping irregular hours, in and out of the house. You are caregiver for your young grand children as mom and dad both work. You are remodeling your home and in the midst of total disarray through  the house. You love refinishing, remaking, redoing, re-purposing everything you can get your hands on and half the thrill is in the search through every second-hand store, every junk store, every variety store, fabric store, craft store and you manage to find every yard or estate sale that is happening within a hundred miles just so you can experience that totally awesome, unbelievable, next project.  You also manage to work a couple of days a week and you are a foster mom for several dog rescue groups. You meet dog transfer vehicles to pick up dogs, you do home checks for prospective adoptions and you know numerous veterinarians on a first name basis as well as knowing the quickest route to at least three emergency vet clinics in the surrounding areas.

The years  have passed, dad passed away in 2009. His health concerns had been their main reason for moving here. Mom is doing okay but can’t see well because of macular degeneration.You are now her main caregiver and devote much of your time, as does your husband, to her needs. Shopping, Dr appointments, the weekly trip for her hair appointment, out to lunch just because she needs to get out. Working out in the yard with her  is  a pleasure because she so loves her flowers. But, you must guide her every step so as not to stumble.

Sometimes, often times, in fact, you find you are tired. You don’t always sleep well, You do chores at night because you didn’t have time to do them that day. You also didn’t have time to eat regular meals. A bite here, a donut there, grab a burger on the way or, “Oh well, it’s too late to eat now. I wasn’t really hungry anyway.” You also canceled your Doctor appointment for the third time. Exercise? Who has time? “Now, where is that list of sales for today? I’ll stop at that one on my way to pick up the little Yorkie rescue and then I can hit the other three sales after I drop off the stuff I sold on the internet yesterday at the meeting spots I arranged. I hope everyone is on time for their stuff.” You finally get home, sit down at the computer, pay some bills, check your adds on the things you still have listed on various sites for sale and start dinner. While dinner is cooking you can get a couple of loads of laundry done, feed the dogs, and check on mom. You find she needs help with fixing her dinner because something went wrong and she burned the pan she was using and now needed  to start over, so you call your husband and ask him to keep an eye on your dinner. Home again, dinner is done, dishes are done at both houses,  you helped mom get ready for bed while you were there, the floor is swept, laundry in the dryer, put the dogs out and then put them to bed.Check once more on mom to make sure all is fine and she’s tucked in safe. Oh..it’s ten thirty and you forgot to take your nine o’clock meds. Your husband asks if you’re ready to call it an evening. “Ummm, well, no, I need to just put a few things away in the computer room so I’m not in a mess to start the day tomorrow. I have to get mom to the Dr remember.   ” Two a.m. you crawl into bed. Seven a.m. you start again.

More time and  years, have passed.  Mom, passed away in 2013, January.  Six months earlier you had found her in a heap on the floor. She didn’t know how she got there. She also didn’t know where she was, or why Dad hadn’t answered her from the other room when she called to him for help. From that day on, she went further and further down hill. Falls, no memory, doesn’t even recognize you from day-to-day. Nursing homes. Doctors. Infections. Surgery. Sixteen days in the hospital after the surgery to amputate her toe because she got an infection. She would need to go to the nursing home again. She doesn’t understand so you spend every bit of time there with her that you can. You take her laundry home to do it yourself so it doesn’t get lost or ruined. You bring her meals you have fixed just for her. You read to her, bring her pictures of her home so she can try to remember. You walk with her, take her to physical therapy and  down to the activity room to get ice cream and to talk with other people. You go home one day, to shower and just collect your thoughts. When you return you find that mom has staged a revolution in the dining room because the soup didn’t look good and wasn’t fit to eat so she dumped the whole bowl over the chicken dinner on her plate and threw her bread roll at the nursing assistant…. AND… she got the other residents at her dining table to do the same thing. In fact, others were starting to join in from other tables before the staff got things under control. After this, incident mom just stopped eating. She refused to go to the dining room. Meals were now being brought to her but she wouldn’t touch them. You brought special meals and treats to encourage her to no avail. You tried taking her home to care for her but had to return in four days. Now, she was just done. She was tired. She quit. You stayed for the next month only going home to shower every couple of days. Then, she was gone. Just like that she went to sleep and never woke up again.

More time, a couple more years. It’s now 2015, your beloved Ruthie is ill. She has been just like a mom to you all your life. She has always been such an important part of your being. Even though she is ninety-four years old you are not ready for this. She was fine last week when you talked to her. But you can’t make the trip to see her as your husband has just had open heart surgery. It was a  four way by pass. He is doing fine but before you can’t leave him and he can’t travel yet. Ruthie went to God before you could get there. You are devastated.  It seems like there has been nothing but problems and they weren’t over yet. The cat, emergency surgery, the little dog Pebbles,  another emergency. The truck broke down, the backhoe on the tractor is broke, a week after your husbands surgery the well pump went out. This is major. No water and it’s not something you can fix yourself. Thank God for friends that came to the rescue. “Now, what now?” you asked, “What else could possibly go wrong?” Then, your little dog PINCH got sick. You rushed her to the vet. She’s was so tiny and frail. Everything was done that can possibly be done, but she didn’t make it. You felt like you just couldn’t  take any more. But life goes on despite how you feel. With your heart just about in pieces you pick yourself up and move on, maybe in a daze, but you move on.

Then in the weeks following, as you go through the mail, you discover a letter from your Dr. Once again, she is reminding you that you need to get in for your mammogram. “How many of these have I gotten?” You ponder that question for just a minute as you throw that letter and some junk mail in the trash. “I’ll make an appointment tomorrow.” But what you aren’t realizing is that you said that last time, and three times before that. You have also been through four doctors since you moved to this area ten years ago. Ten years ago. You had your last mammogram just before you moved here, TEN YEARS AGO.  There were other tests waiting too. You put them off as well. You, were just to busy. There was just  no time to do these things.

Alright, it’s done. You made the appointment. Mammogram next Tuesday at one. It’s Friday now, so you wait. While you wait, you think to yourself how you know you should have done this but there has just been too much going on. You’ve just been so busy. Tuesday comes and goes. The mammogram wasn’t near as bad as they used to be. In and out it only took about a half an hour.  Easy peasy, you got that out-of-the-way. Now, just schedule a few more appointments and you’ll be good as new. All caught up with your health care needs.

Then you get the call. Your voice mail, “Please call the imaging department.” You call. You get their voice mail. Then the Dr office calls. Again, voice mail. Please call imaging. There is a suspicious area. You need another appointment.” You call again, and again get voice mail. It ends up being a week before you can connect. And here folks, is what this story is about. Have you imagined all these things going on? Have you pictured yourself having to deal with all this, some of it good, lots of it bad, but you’ve got through it. Yes, you did. And now you are realizing, at what expense. No, there is nothing about the events that you could have changed. Life happens. You deal with it, you get through it and you move on. Sometimes, it’s tough. Sometimes, you are just having too good of a time to worry about anything so you don’t. But now, you have gotten that dreaded call.  A week goes by that you are unable to get through on the phone. Phone tag, that’s what they call this.  A week to wait…and THINK. What are you thinking? Yes, this could be cancer. Definitely, you have thought of this. You look at your husband and say,”This could be bad. It’s been ten years. Ten years!”  He wraps his wonderful arms around you, trying to comfort, saying, “One day at a time. Just one day at a time. Breath.”  You go through the days trying to get through to set up another appointment with no success. So at this point you folks are probably thinking the big issue is the fact of dying. Ten years with no exam, no mammogram. But, and this is where I want you to really pay attention to my story, dying is not the issue. Well, yes it is, but not how you think. Here’s what goes through your mind. YOU, YES, YOU, did this. You may very well have cancer and you could very well have had it for a long time but YOU didn’t take the time to take care of yourself. Now, how do you tell your children, your husband, family and friends you are dying and it’s by your own hand. It’s your fault. How do you say to your five daughters, whom you have always told to be sure to get their exams and take care of their health issues promptly that you didn’t do it and now you are most likely dying because of it. Do as I say not as I do…just doesn’t cut it here. How do you look at your darling grand kids and tell them they are loosing their grammie. How do you face not being able to see them grow up because YOU neglected to take care of yourself? How do you comfort a man who has promised you his whole life that you are cutting him short on yours ….because you didn’t have time to do things right? Do you think any of them are going to understand this? NO…not even your beloved dogs will be immune to the grieving process that’s in store for them. You, very simply, signed your own death sentence. You have cheated your family out of many years of your love, your hugs, Sunday dinners, picnics at the park, camping trips, your silly jokes, your attempts at singing,  your Christmas stories, your life…the life that was promised to always be there for them, never leave them. Of course, that day would always come eventually but not this soon. YOU DID THIS.  How, just how, do you have that conversation with them ? These thoughts my friends, are what goes through your head and your heart in this situation. These thoughts, this knowledge, will hurt you far more than the cancer itself. The knowledge that you could have stopped this before it started. The knowledge that you should have taken care of yourself.

Okay, you, my readers. Have you been able to picture this in your mind? Have you understood what I have tried to tell you? It’s not that you may be dying but more ..WHY.

The phone connection finally happened. The appointment was made for an ultrasound that very afternoon. I showered, more or less in a daze, not paying much attention to what I was doing. I started to dress, not caring what I would wear. Then, suddenly, something kicked in. NO! NO, NO,NO ! I was not doing this. I was not going there. I just wasn’t willing to let go. I put on my best black pants and my flowing white top. I smiled and applied my make up as if I had not a care in the world, then threw my black and white-flowered shawl around my shoulders, added complimenting jewelry, and last, but not least, plopped my big, wide-brimmed black hat with the big flowers on the back, on my head and waltzed out to the kitchen where my husband was waiting for me. “Do I look like someone headed in to be told they have cancer?” I asked him.

“Well no, you don’t. You look like you are on your way out for a lovely luncheon with girlfriends and a fun afternoon.” he replied.

I thanked him and then added,  “Allrighty then, come on. Let’s go and don’t worry. I’ve got this. They wouldn’t dare tell me… You have cancer. Not today.” The “Not today,” was another thing that had weighed on my mind. You see, it just happened to be my birthday.

We arrived half an hour early. They took me straight in, did the ultra sound and told me the radiologist would be right in. She was prompt and very nice and got straight to the point. “First of all,” she said, “let me tell you that there are at least six factors that we look at and  when diagnosing these things. Every detail, every factor has been applied, and all say, without a doubt, this….is NOT cancer. It has meant all the criteria for being non malignant and of absolutely no concern. ” Again, this procedure only took about twenty minutes.

It took a minute to sink in. I took a deep breath, bowed my head and said, “Thank You God.” I then thanked the radiologist and the nurse, dressed and headed for the waiting room. My husband had watched me go through these doors leaving him but doing so with my head high and a smile on my face. Now, he would see me return the same way. It was a set of double doors. I pushed them both open, entered the waiting area, smiled at the two receptionists and said, “Have a wonderful day ladies. I’m going to.”  At that point my husband was on his feet and with a huge sigh, said “Thank God.”  The rest of the afternoon is a blurr. We went to lunch, Steve took me shopping, We were happy, carefree, and jubilant. Me, I had answers. Answers to all my questions of “How do I tell them?”

Never again will I place myself in that position.  Never again will I have to worry about telling my family I would not be around because…I DIDN’T TAKE THE TIME TO CARE. This is what I wanted you to know. If ever you are told you may have cancer or any other life threatening issue, don’t let it be because you didn’t take the time to take care of yourself. Don’t subject yourself to the questions you would have to face because these questions are what will kill you. These questions, this knowledge is what will make you wish you were already dead and didn’t have to face your family. The knowledge that you cheated your loved ones out of your life will hurt you more than any cancer or disease ever could. So, get your check-ups. Get those mammograms. The small amount of time that it takes to get them done could just save your life.

You are the author of your story in life.  Please, think about your ending, now, before you write the rest of it. I got the chance to re-think my ending.  Mine will read…”She did everything she could do, and more…”

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Not today!  No way am I going to have cancer!  I’ve got this !!!

Have a wonderful day folks, in fact, have lots of them! I’m going to.

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