Those of you that have followed my adventure across the country know that this is normally a blog of foibles and good humor.
Today, it’s something different. And for those of you who have waited a year since my last post, I apologize in advance, and can only promise to try to post more often.
July 2nd every year is a tough day. A dubious anniversary that this year is just a little bit rougher. 20 years ago, I held my mother’s hand as her head sagged further with each labored breath. I rubbed her arm as her life dribbled away, the space between those breaths getting longer and longer, thinking my action was somehow making a difference as she faded towards death. Then she was gone, and I sat down and cried.
And never really stopped.
Anyone who’s lost a parent, especially at a young age, knows exactly what that means. There are so many life events with an empty seat. Since she passed 20 years ago, I’ve graduated college (twice, in fact – her dream for me), bought a house, gotten married, built a career. I make nearly 4 times what she did when she died (and she was paid decently in ’98 as a nurse). I’ve succeeded vastly beyond what I think she hoped for me.
I’ve failed, too. I’ve failed spectacularly. I’ve faced crushing heartache. And those are far harder than the successes. Yes, the successes would have been great to share, but the failures are when I needed her. The failures are when I needed the safety of the woman who bore a cervical clamp for nearly 6 of the months she carried me because her body was not strong enough to do it on its own. Because I was that special to her. Because she refused to accept that I would die or kill us both if carried to term.
And yet, that could be exactly what happened. Just not right then.
At the time of my birth, my mother had ulcerative colitis, it just hadn’t been diagnosed, and wouldn’t be until later. Until she was diagnosed and given a cocktail of drugs insidious all on their own, she was 90 pounds. Some of my earliest memories are of her too weak to get out of bed, calling for ‘Nurse Magillicuddy’ to come sit by her bedside for an arm rub, which my sister and I would race to do. It was ulcerative colitis that would eventually turn into colon cancer that would take her within two months of it being discovered. And while I know I’m not responsible for it, I can’t help but think the stress of my birth (and subsequent pedantic hardheadedness) played some part.
Which brings me to the second 20 year anniversary and watershed that I face this year. In 1998, I had a colonoscopy scheduled for July 6th, scheduled before we knew that Mom had 2 months to live. And I had to reschedule it to July 17th because the 6th was the day of her funeral. And on that July 17th, they removed an adenomatous (pre-cancerous) polyp that had grown to half the diameter of my colon. At 19. 19 years old. The reasons for that is an entirely different blog post, but the short story is that we ‘sit’ on our stress in my family, and my family had given me plenty of it prior to age 19.
With family history and now my personal history, I’ve had a colonoscopy every five years since. And never has anything surfaced. Until this year. And now, having two polyps removed prior to age 40 and a mother who died at 43 puts me on the danger watchlist. At which point I realize those doctors all those years ago may not have been totally wrong.
So what now? I need to reduce my stress, increase frequency of colonoscopies, and sadly, try to be a little less like my mother. If I’m angry, let it out. If I disagree, say something. Admit when I’m damn tired. And fight for myself, even when I am. Because you can’t wait until the end to start fighting. You won’t have enough practice for when it matters.
The people that say it gets easier with time are wrong. You just learn to compartmentalize better. And on July 2nd, there just aren’t enough boxes.