“Life's challenges are not supposed to paralyze you; they're supposed to help you discover who you are.” (Reagon)
As a child, you picture your life as happy and easy. You do not picture the down times or the hard moments. I had a vision of a life filled with happiness and ease. My life has instead been one filled with many hurdles and difficulty. It is not how many times you get knocked down, what is more important is the getting back up. The dusting yourself off and finding fight in yourself, a drive to keep going. As I have been told many times, “I was dealt a rough hand.” But through my life I have learned that if you just hold onto that hand, you can turn it into a winning one.
From the moment my mother was diagnosed with cancer, I confronted emotions and issues that many adults have never faced. I was sixteen years old and forced to develop a sudden level of maturity as the innocence of my childhood slipped away from me. My mother was diagnosed in March of 1999, at the age of 39. I can still remember the day she told us the news, sitting on the floral couch and wondering why this was happening. Why a woman who had such a big heart and would do anything for anyone was now forced to fight a battle that she would ultimately lose. Why a women with three small children would be taken before her time. I can still remember driving with her to chemotherapy and sitting in the brown leather couches and the oncologist boasting about the large screen televisions in the treatment room as if watching Maury on a 60 inch television would make this experience any better for anyone in the room. The treatments literally took the life out of my mother. She would always ask me to stop at the hotdog stand near the office to get a foot long and a Pepsi, although within hours she would be emptying her stomach. This became our tradition, and to this day I have not been able to return to that hotdog stand. She became so weak and withered away. She lost her fight way before she lost her battle because she was too physically weak to fight. She could no longer sleep alone; afraid to close her eyes, so I would join her in her bed each night. I assumed the role of the parent, attempting to comfort my scared mother, but unlike the parents trying to get rid of the monsters under the bed, my mother’s monster was inside her and killing her. There was nothing for me to do but simply be there. After a great deal of discussions my mother decided to sign a DNR order, preventing any life saving measures to be used on her. At the time I was angry and could not understand how she could give up or quit on my siblings and me; however it wasn’t her giving up, it was her body giving up. She caught a cold in the summer and was then hospitalized as she was becoming septic and her body was beginning to shut down.
On July 26, 1999 I got the one phone call that no one ever wants to be on the other end of. It was the nurse from the hospital, asking if we could get there as soon as possible to say our goodbyes. The car ride was only fifteen minutes, but the trip felt as though it was several hours long. I remember my father driving and my ten year old brother and twelve year old sister sitting in the backseat, none of us speaking, none of us wanting to discuss what was about to happen. That at this very moment, all of our lives would be forever changed. That nothing after this car ride would ever be the same. We rushed to be by her side and we all got a chance to say our own goodbyes, and then within a few hours, with her parents, siblings, and children gathered around her bed, she took her last breath and left us. My life instantly became different, a childhood now tainted with a memory of loss and sadness. Every moment in my life now became and continues to be measured by my mother’s death. Every situation is remembered as “before” or “ after”. Every memory is categorized into the happy, carefree times prior to our significant loss or the dark and less desirable times that came to be following July 26th. The death of a parent and at such a young age specifically, forced my view of the world and my sense of responsibility to take a dramatic turn. I had barely accepted and processed my mother's diagnosis and had watched over the months as the strong, loving woman I admired withered away and weakened. In the last year of her life, I was given the greatest gift I will ever receive: the gift of deep experience. I am now able to recognize the adversity that accompanies any good in life. My mother taught me about loyalty, love and strength. But most importantly, she gave me the opportunity to see through her eyes, triggering compassion in me and a sense of responsibility to those I love and the world around me that I might not have otherwise discovered. Our mother’s death reminded all of us to truly cherish one another, and to find positive in any situation. To live our lives to the fullest as our mother tried to do. Even on her worst day she was always attempting to smile. Smiling to hide the pain, smiling to remind us that even in your hardest moments in life there is something to smile about. My mother lived her life the way I can only attempt to live mine. She showed me and everyone around her that life may not always be “fair” and that everyone experiences tough situations, but your mentality and the way you chose to deal with these experiences is what is important. I never once heard her complain or feel bad for herself, she was and always will be the most positive influence in my life.
In 2004, after an altercation with my father and his new wife, I was asked to leave our childhood home. My father, the man who had helped bring me into this world and had always been there for me,had suddenly changed. He became withdrawn after my mother’s death and lost himself quickly in a new and unhappy marriage. He chose to remarry a woman without any children, and quite obviously did not want children. She made my siblings and I feel unwelcome in our own home and treated my siblings and I as though we were burdens. We were simply children who were still mourning the loss of their mother, children who needed extra love and guidance I was 22 years old and still a full time student. I was suddenly living on my own without the financial support of anyone. Once again I was placed in a role filled with responsibility. Over the next few years, I worked three jobs and attended school to continue working on my Bachelor's. I took care of myself to the best of my abilities, although there were times I ate peanut butter and jelly for the entire month, times I would have to steal toilet paper from work because I could not even afford to buy simple necessities. Every hurdle thrown my way seemed impossible and unbeatable. There were many times I considered giving up, just dropping out of school and working to better my financial situation. But as I had done so many times before, I continued to move forward. I learned to rely on myself before others, and to work hard for everything I needed. This experience taught me lessons that have contributed to the strong, independent woman I have become. To this day, our father will not speak to me, when faced with the choice placed upon him, he chose his new wife over his own children. I used to feel so upset and lost by this, now an orphan. I had lost my mother through death and now my father through his own decision. I have tried several times to mend the situation with him, knowing that life is too short to live with such regret and bitterness in my heart, however, he is not interested in doing so. It is now him I feel badly for, as he is missing out on being part of his daughter’s life. He is the one who will be replaced walking me down the aisle in April. It is no longer myself that I feel badly for, it is him as he has chosen a life of solitude.
It was during this time I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. After numerous failed surgeries, I underwent a hysterectomy at the age of 24. I had gone into my doctor’s office thinking I was there for biopsies to be done. He had called me on a Friday and told me the results were back, first PAP since my CO2 laser ablation in July, and the results were not good, so it was biopsy time. I sat on the table, undressed, and vulnerable, waiting for them to wheel in the colposcopy machine I recognized a little too well, but instead in came my doctor's assistant who asked me to get dressed and meet him in the conference room. I started crying at that point, knowing what the conference room meant. It was Wednesday, October 18, 2006 and my life was forever changed. He scheduled my surgery for Monday, October 23, 2006. He wanted to get me into the operating room as soon as possible, as I am only twenty four years old and have been fighting him on this decision since he first offered it five years previous. I am glad now that I only had four days, four days to be nervous, four days to be scared, and four days to convince myself that I was not alone and that this decision, although one of the hardest in my life was the correct one. I grew sick of hearing the words brave, and “you’ll get through this”. THIS is something I don’t know if I will ever truly get through. I lost a part of myself on that operating table that day, something much more than my physical parts. But talking about it, listening to other women's struggles and courage has been great therapy for me. It reminds me that I am getting through this and slowly but surely I will be better. And that by sharing my stories, I may be able to not only help myself in the healing process, but someone else. Most twenty four year olds are recent college graduates, starting their lives in positive manners; I instead was preparing to undergo a major life altering surgery. I was scared and with the support of my sister and close friends began a physically and mentally grueling recovery.
The surgery took so much from me; it took something from me I can never get back. The scar I know have on my abdomen is easier to deal with than the emotional one that is still healing. This situation has caused me to change my entire outlook and affected my life in so many ways. I am now 30 years old and feeling the pains of this situation daily, struggling with the fact that I can not be a mother the natural way, that I can not experience the joy of childbirth, that I can not feel my child’s heartbeat inside me, have a growing baby bump, ultrasound pictures, or just have that instant connection that a mother and child have. Instead, I will be using a surrogate, and “building a baby” as my friends and I like to joke. I am a firm believer that laughter is the best medicine, and my ongoing joke is that I will be the lucky woman who is able to drink at her own baby shower. Cocktails served in pink and blue test tube shots of course ;) I joke that it will be similar to a pizza delivery, and I can be called to pick up the baby when it’s done cooking and just leave a tip. I joke because it is easier to make others and myself laugh than cry. I have dealt with the loss of my mother, and in another sense my father. And now I am finally grieving the loss of my fertility. Because that is truly what it is, a loss of something I so desperately wanted. I know that I am fortunate enough to even have the option of using a gestational carrier; however, I can not lie and say that I don’t tear up seeing the daily ultrasound or baby announcements from friends on Facebook. I just want other girls or women in my similar situation to know its okay. It is okay to cry, it is okay to be upset and it is okay to be angry. But at the same time, I am hopeful, and excited to go through my own experience. It will be different, and at times strange, but what part of my life so far has been normal? I am living a new version of normal.
I have often been told by many who know me that my life is like a movie. To that I always respond with a smile. I must agree, my life is like a movie. It is a story of survival, a story of perseverance and courage. A story of triumph. My blockbuster has had tears as well as much laughter and joy. Right now, my life, my "movie" is paused. I am currently thirty years old, and happier than I have ever been. I am an ABA therapist for children on the autism spectrum. I am engaged to marry my prince charming, and so proud of where my life is currently. I feel every moment; both positive and negative in my life has led to me to this. My obstacles in my life have helped show me who I am supposed to become. I am able to use my experiences to channel them into daily empathy and compassion for others. Be the outlet for others to understand and process their feelings. Every challenge I have faced has further convinced me that this life is too short and to cherish every single moment with every person in your life. Luckily, this movie is being directed by me and I have an excellent cast and look forward to every minute of this unraveling blockbuster until the credits roll.