My Truth About Illness in the Family

Mom with Lymphoma Cancer and Stroke

For as long as I could remember my mom had always been sick. Growing up I remember how often she would feel tired, how often she would be bedridden from intense migraines, her frequent visits to the acupuncturist and the perfectly rounded bald spot hidden at the top of her head caused by undue stress.  It wasn’t until years later, when my sister Audrey and I reached middle school that we discovered it had a name –  she had Leukemia, then it was Multiple Sclerosis and finally, the correct diagnosis, Lymphoma Cancer.

A tumor had formed in her brain and none of it had registered. My sister and I would have extended sleepovers at close family friends’ homes while my mom received treatment. Truth be told, I don’t remember much more than this. Before I knew it we had an in-home caregiver who quickly became a sister to Audrey and I, and my once beautifully (still beautiful) thick raven haired mom became bald. What felt like shortly afterwards, my mom had suffered from a stroke and then another. The right side of her body became limp and her right hand developed a tremor. Her outer appearance was still Sherry, but like she often tells me, “People think I look normal – they don’t know that I’m sick”.

My recollection of my mom’s illness, how it happened, when it happened, when she recovered, when it worsened, is one giant blur. At times I wonder if it’s because I were too selfish to care or a more forgiving point-of-view people offer, is that I’ve managed to suppress my memories. These gracious people express their empathy and oftentimes commend Audrey and I for being such great daughters, and my dad for being the wonderful husband/dad that he is. I’m sure many have experienced something similar to us. I’d like to share some of the darker realities I’m sure others can relate to. If not, then I must be a more terrible person than I feared.

I’ll recount yesterday’s outing with my mom to shed some light.

The other day I take mom out to Lakeshore. My mom doesn’t show many emotions –  from time to time I observe her expression staring blankly out to the road ahead from the passenger seat. I blare music in the car and notice she’s unconsciously tapping her feet and nodding her head to the music. She especially loves Macy Gray. I know this because though she’s never listened to “I Try”, she still attempts to sing along in tune, seconds delayed. She also asks whether Macy Gray is black because to my mom, black people are indisputably the best singers.

When we arrive I make sure to ask if she’s hungry before we set out to walk by the lake. She says yes so we eat something quick and easy. Pizza with Grape Fanta. After this, I take her to the bathroom to get it out of the way before our walk. Right as we’re about to head out she tells me she’s thirsty. She begs to have the rest of the Grape Fanta but I know the carbohydrates will only leave her feeling more thirsty. Instead, I allow her one measly sip of water to avoid having to walk back to the main street for another bathroom break. I want everything to run smoothly so that our much anticipated walk by the lake is pleasant and goes uninterrupted.

I wheel mom up unlevelled sidewalks and rocky gravel until we reach the smooth paved trail unwinding alongside beautiful lush parks and sparkling water. We listen to the water lapping against rocks and point to pretty trees towering over us. Mom thanks me repeatedly for taking her out and I’m saddened I don’t do this more often. I’m especially saddened knowing something as simple as a walk is one of the little joys she gets to experience.

“Thank you Lauren. Thank you Lauren.” She says repeatedly.

Midway through our walk I can tell my mom is distracted. She’s no longer looking out to the water and she’s slumped on her chair.

“Lauren, let’s go back. I need to go to the bathroom.” I immediately turn to frustration.

“Can’t you go in your diaper?”

“NO!” She exclaims incredulously.

I’m ashamed I even ask this.

“I told you not to take that sip! You weren’t going to die of thirst!”

I hastily wheel the chair around and I walk faster than my normal speed-walking pace, angry, sweating, and racing. This time I run over her feet because she’s brought them down to pace with me. I hear her wince as she let’s out a loud “OW!”

“How many times do I have to tell you not to do that! I’m pushing you – you don’t need to do that. Otherwise you’ll get hurt like this!”  

I hear my mom:

“I’m sorry Lauren. I’m sorry Lauren.” She says repeatedly.

I tell her to stop saying she’s sorry. Whether I want her to stop to rid my guilt or because I don’t want her to feel as though she’s a burden like she often thinks she is, I’m unsure. Probably a bit of both. I make a pit stop to the nearest bathroom on our way out of the park. The bathroom is dingy and my mom is visibly uncomfortable taking care of her business here. She really had to go but I can tell she’s quieted herself as soon as another woman enters the tight spaced bathroom. Even with her sickness disrupting her bowel control, my mom refuses to poop undignified. I roll my eyes, wait until the other woman leaves, wait until my mom finishes, help her back into the chair and we’re off again.

I walk us back begrudgingly to the car as we return back to the main street feeling angry at myself for having so little patience and understanding. I was looking forward to this walk and I ruined it, I thought to myself. Then I hear my mom’s voice: “What’s in there?” It’s as if she’s forgotten the entire incident. She points  to one of the small boutiques that’s caught her eyes. I’ve been given another chance to make this trip worthwhile. “Let’s go in.” I say. We browse the hippie styled shop and share our likes and dislikes. I wheel mom through the sex toy aisle and watch her engrossed with a look of disgust as we pass through all the pink plastic dildos and laugh at her. We leave feeling ready to leave. Both of us happy to have gone.

Moments ago I was prepared to tell myself I’m never doing this again. I was overcome with a mixture of guilt and anger but I realize, if I want to make progress with helping my mom find happiness I just have to keep pushing through. Push through the guilt, leap at the opportunity to make things better and press forward. If you’re short-tempered  like myself, I know it’s cheesy to say, it does get better. You will start to become a little more understanding. Lucky for me I have a mom who has the memory of a goldfish when it comes to my wrongdoings. By the end of the trip she exclaims:

“Take me with you the next time you come here!”

Channing Tatum’s Letter to His Daughter is Everything

Channing Tatum & Jenna Dewan with Daughter

If he hasn’t already won you over with his dangerously good looks, dance moves and charm, he will now. Me and (undoubtedly), a billion other women are swooning over Channing Tatum, and here’s why: His open letter to his daughter.  The letter expresses his highest hopes for his daughter’s future self in her transition to womanhood, and it. Is. Everything.

C.T.’s letter addresses exploring sexuality, relationships and finding true love and is especially applicable to those of us who are navigating life in our twenty-somethings. Reading the letter unravelled the amount of pressure I have personally been feeling unknowingly.

When I initially read the letter, I was skeptical and misconstrued the article for sending a message I worried could be interpreted as women being more desirable when they have no standards and tolerate bad qualities in their S.O.s as Channing Tatum recounts the moment he fell in love with his now wife, Jenna Dewan.

“…she had accepted every part of me, the good and the bad. And I knew she wasn’t auditioning me or hoping I’d meet some set of expectations.”

Despite knowing what C.T. meant by this, I criticized his choice of words. It occurred to me that I were being defensive for the very reason Channing Tatum encourages authenticity. I couldn’t trust that women reading this would understand its intent. I worried that we wouldn’t be able to discern good from bad or how to trust our own judgement to make the right decisions, and I certainly didn’t want this letter to mislead a generation of women into thinking we didn’t need to be pre-cautious.

This is why I love the letter.

It’s brought to my attention how often I am told as a woman to be careful, to not be too trusting, to be mindful of the future… and I realize no wonder it’s become so easy to second-guess yourself (says me to myself)! Though none of this is telling me how to feel, it’s engrained in me to believe that my decisions could be horribly wrong and met with horrifying consequences. This way of paving my future and the decisions I make has stifled my ability to leap whole heartedly into anything without being fearful of making the wrong choice.

Contrary to how many women were raised or taught by society and adult figures, C.T’s letter credits women in such a way where we’re empowered to feel that our best decisions will come from ourselves. It’s a nice change to be told you can have confidence in your decisions. That the better you get to know yourself, the more likely you are to know what’s right for you. The most important thing is to direct our attention to who we are, not what is expected of us, or anything else that distances ourselves from our true selves… especially not fear. He continues with:

“And that’s what I want for my daughter… to ask herself what she wants and feel empowered enough to act on it.”

I hope that all women alike are encouraged to do the same. I also secretly hope Channing Tatum will come across this.

An Add-On to Articles on Toxic Friends

Toxic Friends

With all the recent articles on toxic friendships (8 Signs of a Toxic Friendship, 23 Warning Signs of a Toxic Friend, etc.) , I began to realize how they failed to acknowledge that cutting your ties probably meant you were doing the other person a favour too. True, it becomes easier as an adult to detect which relationships are unhealthy for us – but what about acknowledging that we too could benefit from the loss by learning about our own enabling behaviours.

Growing up, I realized that many, if not most of my friendships were toxic relationships. I used to think that these people just gravitated towards me – impossibly beautiful and self-destructive girls whom I felt were very unlike myself. I didn’t share the same circle of  friends, I didn’t go out to the same parties, I didn’t share similar experiences –  it became increasingly puzzling to me as I began to question what was it about myself that drew these people in?

For hours I would listen to my friends talk about their moral dilemmas, I would help them carry out lies, incessantly talk over how they could fix their situation. All I wanted was for them to feel that no matter the circumstance, they would never be judged by their friend.  Oftentimes they would refer to me as their own personal “therapist”.

For selfish reasons I liked being someone who could be counted on. But as time drew on, I started to feel reluctant to follow through with plans and if  I did, I would leave feeling worse-off after hanging  out. I too would become attached to their problems as if they were my own and would feel disappointed, sad and fearful to see my friends lapse into their toxic patterns, wondering whether that could be me too. Though I would be present for my friends, I wouldn’t say I were being “supportive” of them. If anything, I allowed for them to indulge in their self-destruction – I became an enabler, leaving neither of us being helpful to one or the other.

Though one person might be more harmful than the other, most failed relationships are a two-way street. When you go through the pains of parting from a toxic friend, it’s time for both parties to reflect on what they could do to help friendships flourish. Sometimes, the best thing you could do to be a true friend, is step back, accept that you’ve done all you could to offer your support.

No One Asked.

Bye.

There is nothing worse than making light conversation only to find yourself speaking to one of these people: The ones who have something to say about everything. You could be walking down a cereal aisle contemplating aloud “what cereal do I want…” with this person alongside of you, and all of a sudden find yourself wishing you had never set foot in the grocery store as you drown out their impassioned speech about Lucky Charms and consumerism.

Don’t get me wrong – stimulating conversations are great, healthy debates are cool too. But for the love of God, I just wanted to get my cereal. And it happens more often than not where I find myself in the midst of these convoluted tangents I could care less for.

After having roused one too many of these conversations with no intent in doing so, I began to wonder what on earth prompted this – what drove this compulsion to shove an opinion wherever and whenever? Here’s what I’ve deducted – and feel free to disagree.

  1. We live in a world where we’re looking for any reason to be mad. I know – the irony right? Girl can’t stand hearing other people’s stance, so she blogs about it. To be fair, it practically balances out the amount of one-sided conversations I’ve endured, half-listening to people “voice an opinion”. People love stirring the pot – we see it all the time in the media. For example: Alicia Keys is famously known for being a feminist – and what kind of advocate would she be had she not tweeted a picture of either herself or some woman in a hijab – right?? (I hope you detected my sarcasm). While I’m pro feminism, I still don’t know what this public stunt was responsive to nor do I understand its overall message.  It’s no surprise this sort of behaviour has transpired into our day-to-day conversations…
  2. We love to set ourselves apart from the rest. Anytime anyone’s spoken out unnecessarily it’s to point to one of their poignant characteristic attributes (usually the best ones). Now this is only overbearing when the conversation had nothing to do with the latter. It’s not that I don’t want to get to know you as a person — truthfully, I’d rather see, than be told. Nevertheless, we seem to feel the need to make a point about ourselves whenever the opportunity presents itself. It’s the only way to get the message across. We get it, you’re “different”.
  3. We’re obsessed with having a “cause”. Imagine telling a friend you’ve cooked (insert meal of choice here)  the other day and every single time you say something to do with what you’ve cooked because the topic were brought up, they say something to the effect of “I’ll never cook a day in my life”. Every. Single. Damn. Time. Just in different variations. Here I was thinking we were conversing about what I made the other night, but now I feel as though I ought to applaud you for your defiance against cooking.

To those of you who have a habit of projecting, take a moment to ask yourselves – Is this for me or for the two people involved in this conversation? If you’re the type who has something to say on even the most trivial matter, to this, I say: No one asked.