Taking Care of YOU – Health Scare

I don’t take care of myself. It isn’t a priority to me. As I type that out, it really looks like crazy talk. Who says that? “My health is not a priority.” Everyone knows that you aren’t supposed to own up to that. But in fact, the first step to making your health a priority, is to acknowledge where your efforts to stay healthy stand.

If you must quickly decide your first three priorities, what would they be? You have 30 seconds to decide. Go!

  1. Children
  2. Husband
  3. Job

That’s what I came up with, did you notice anything missing? I am not even in my top three!?

I love being a Mom, I think I’ve made that clear. I love my husband, and everyone knows you have to put effort into a good relationship. I love my job, I am good at what I do, and it gives me purpose, but also, I just need my job. We have kids to feed!

I don’t just need to move myself up on my priority list, I have to. This is a cautionary tale of what can happen, if you choose to ignore your health for too long.

Quick background, I was athletic as a kid and teenager. I carried a little extra weight when I was young. My mother had an aversion to vegetables, and loved things like Shake&Bake and Hamburger Helper.

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All dressed up for my Senior Prom

I didn’t start eating properly until high school. I thought I was so fat. I would make my own dinner of steamed vegetables and whole grain rice and turn my nose up at my mother’s roast beef and potatoes – a staple in my diet my whole life. My health was a priority then. In fact, all my priorities back then had to do with … ME.

The girl in this picture had a different top 3 priorities, namely getting fit, making money and picking the right college. Me, me, me.

And that seems to be the nature of young people. Even the high school students I meet as part of my brother’s memorial scholarship fund hold community service as a resume builder. The school district had made it policy that the students must complete 30 hours of community service in order to be eligible for graduation. And as young people tend to do, status was awarded to those that volunteered at the chicest charity.

But, I digress.

I’m not young anymore, and I don’t prioritize my health, and that seems to be the status of too many moms. If you follow my blog, you know that an x-ray recently showed a small tumor on my right femur. Doing his due diligence, my doctor promptly ordered an MRI, but told me not to worry, it was most probably benign and it was very small.

I haven’t received the official doctor’s reading of the images, but I am not happy with what I saw on the MRI. Yes, I am such a smarty pants that I requested to have the MRI saved to a CD, so I could look at it at my leisure, Google bone tumors, self diagnose and generally drive myself crazy.

Small bone tumor on right femur

The bullseye in the middle of the picture is a small bone tumor on my right femur.

Due to an error on the MRI order, the technicians at the hospital decided better to be safe than sorry and scanned both legs. I am so thankful for whatever error caused them to make that decision. I do have a small tumor on my right femur, as seen in the image on the left. I don’t know what it is. I’m not a doctor, but from what I’ve gathered, it’s kind of a little growth on the outer part of your bone, like a barnacle on a boat.

I could be completely wrong.

But I had to look through all the images closely to find that small anomaly. It’s strange to imagine this small bone blemish, being in close proximity to my knee, happened to show up on my knee x-ray. Because it did, I happened across this:

Left femur tumor

My left femur with a scary looking tumor.

A scary looking thing on my left femur. What is that!?

It was the first thing that took my notice when I opened up the pictures on the disc on my laptop at home. How lucky was I that they even scanned my left leg?

I spent a whole day looking up MRI images of femurs to try to figure out what it is. I stopped. It was making me sad and scared. I will speak to my doctor about it at my appointment next week.

The second thing I noticed while I looked at my MRI was not the related to tumors at all. I think it is a much more telling factor in my overall health though. Look at all that fat!

Cross section of my meaty thighs, ugh.

Cross section of my meaty thighs, ugh.

When did that happen!? For those of you unfamiliar with these types of images, the white stuff is fat, the darker area is muscle, and in the middle, are my bones. My fat doesn’t even totally fit on the screen.

I can’t stop looking at it, how it has found it’s way into my leg muscle, how hard it must be for my wimpy small muscles to lug that extra weight around and how unhealthy I know it is for me.

This can happen too easily, if you don’t keep yourself as a priority.

I continued to workout after college. I continued to work out at gyms into my 30’s. So where did I go wrong?

In 2011, I was in a terrible car accident.

My poor Corolla, RIP

My poor Corolla, RIP 2010 – 2011

The lady in the White Trailblazer was texting instead of driving, and struck my little and stationary Corolla at over 40 M.P.H. It resulted in many injuries, including a disc herniation in my neck. I could barely walk, let alone work out. My new routine consisted of flexing my neck muscles. The rest of me got very little use. The next year, my brother died, and I became terribly depressed. I became pregnant in 2013, and used it as an excuse to eat way too much. When the baby came in 2014, I wasn’t even doing my physical therapy anymore, and just took naps in the middle of the day with my little one. Now, it’s 2015, and my knees are killing me!

It is important to process and recover from setbacks, like the ones I had. I was off work for nearly 2 months with the car accident, and nearly 4 months in 2014 on maternity leave. Looking back, I wish I had made myself more of a priority. I became swept up with the idea that I would lose my job, and so started putting in longer hours and eating lunch at my desk. This led to exhaustion which caused me to wake up late nearly every day, and skip my breakfast. Somewhere amongst all this, I forgot that in order to give people the best of you, you must be at your best.

Now, I’m past the time of needing to make a change. I have to make a change. If things stay the way they are, my kids will have to take care of their mummy, and that is not what I want for them. No one ever wants to burden their kids.

No waiting for New Year’s resolutions or cheating at holiday parties, I need to move more and eat less. Any favorite tips you have, things that worked for you? Help get off on the right foot, by leaving helpful comments below. Thanks!

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How to Stay Strong in the Face of Bad News

There will always be times in your life when things do not go your way. To be able to move forward despite your disappointment is a skill that any supermom, or any one for that matter, needs to master.

For many years, this was a skill that eluded me. I looked to my brother and his struggles and learned from his example. He never let obstacles slow him down, he would just adjust course. To read more about his story, please read my post Loss of a Sibling.

It would seem that recently, life has been testing my ability to stay strong in the face of utter defeats. I think I’ve done well coping with my new struggles this year, and I hope you can employ these tips and stay strong.

#1. Reach out for support.

It is my time to shine. I had a good year at work. I met my goals, I even surpassed some. I did get a “Good job.” from my boss for the marked improvement in report submission. The improvement is appreciated. Perfect time to ask for that promotion, right?

Maybe not. But next year looks good.

I was crushed. I held it together, and finished the meeting with my boss. We finished with a strategy to get me that promotion, next year. After she left my office, though, it was time to call in my support group. I called my husband first, who promptly called my boss a jerk. After, I called my mom, who of course decided that my boss was only trying to keep me down because I was her work horse, her secret weapon. I made her look good, and it just wouldn’t do to have me be promoted out of there.

These things aren’t true, of course. But in that moment, it’s what I really needed. Because I didn’t want to end that meeting with a smile and a handshake, I wanted to scream in her face! Doesn’t she know how expensive things are? How hard I’ve worked? How much I needed that raise? How can I work properly when I’m constantly worried about providing for my family? I can’t even afford their health insurance benefit anymore. Each year the premium has risen, so they are taking more and more out of my check. A small raise would help at least cover their expensive premiums, but without one, my check gets smaller and smaller.

But your support group shouldn’t just put down those that disappoint you. Nothing will show my boss that I deserve that promotion more than taking her constructive criticism and coming back more dedicated than ever. After that initial emotionally charged period, your support network will help you move on to the next step. From the extra hug I got from my husband the next morning before work, to a coworker that gave me tips on how she got her promotion when she was in a similar situation at our office, they give you the support to come back strong.

#2. Be sad.

Sometimes, I just have myself a little cry. It may not sound like something a strong person would do, but to keep your emotions stuffed down in side you is not good for you. A very smart lady said “It takes a shit ton of strength and courage to be a sensitive person in this world.” (Thanks Hattie Cooper/The Anxious Girl’s Guide to Dating in 2013)

People tend to give you space and time to be sad when catastrophic events occur. I still shed a tear for my brother at random moments. Misting up over the miscarriage is more difficult, because I didn’t tell people at work what had happened, and I don’t want to. Taking those few moments to have a cry can reinforce you. It is a release of the stress and emotion building up inside you. Let it go, let it out, and you’ll feel better.

For smaller disappointments, this strategy still works. Give yourself a little time to release the emotion from each small disappointment. If you are a private person, that is fine. Excuse yourself and find a space where you can release the emotion. This leaves you unfettered and ready to handle the next emotional thing that will happen in your day.

#3. Process what happened.

After you let out the emotion, there is more room in your brain for making plans.

At a recent doctor appointment for my chronic knee pain, the doctor let me know at the end of my visit that I had a tumor on my femur. His attitude was laid-back, meant to keep me calm about what he was telling me. They wanted an MRI of my femur, so they could better judge if it was benign or malignant, but I shouldn’t go home and worry because they were confident it was benign.

Well, Google isn’t so confident. It seems these types of tumors are more common in young people who are still growing. So, to have developed this in my late 30’s tells me (again the source being Google) that it is most likely malignant. Freak out time!

Nope, I’m going to stay strong. The fact is, it could be malignant, but all the Googling in the world won’t diagnose my tumor. I need to get an MRI, and then maybe a biopsy, gather the data to determine what type of tumor it is. Either way, some type of treatment will be called for, and I can deal with it when that happens.

To try to process something that hasn’t happened yet can just drive you crazy. There are so many ‘what ifs’ out there, it’s a miracle we make it through each day. But we do, most times without incident. So, stick to the facts.

#4. Make a plan.

Plans are great. They can fill you with energy. It is like looking up at an insurmountable peak, and then seeing that around the corner, there are steps that you can take to the top. The steps are your plan. My boss and I made goals for the coming year. Reaching those goals will make it easier to get a promotion. So, I made plans on things I can do at work that will help me reach those goals. My husband and I, though crushed by our loss this past summer, plan to continue to try for another baby. Just making that decision helped me recover some of my strength. We have also planned a memorial on what would have been the baby’s birth date. He wants us to get matching tattoos to remember our son – that plan isn’t final yet. My doctor and I have a plan for my femur. I’m going to get an MRI and see him again at the end of the month.

Having a plan can make you feel in control over a situation that may have left you feeling helpless. You are not helpless, make a plan, or adjustments to your previous plans, to get to where you want to be.

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Moms are pure strength. We have to be strong for many reasons. But it isn’t something that just happens overnight. If you are feeling downtrodden, reach out to your support network, feel all the feels, but keep your focus on the facts of what happened, then, make a plan to get yourself back on track. This will lead you to see the strength that is within you.

How do you stay strong? Please share in the comments.

Loss of a Sibling

The past week has been difficult for me. Three years ago, on October 18th, 2012, my brother passed away suddenly from an aneurysm. Every year, my family holds a memorial mass at our church in the old neighborhood where we grew up. We go out to dinner afterwards and share memories of him. He was only 45.

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I miss him every day.

He was our family’s golden child, the first-born and the only son, he adored his three little sisters, and doted on us readily. When I was just 4, he would play-wrestle with me, and somehow I always won. When I was small, I would go to his high school basketball game with little pom-poms and cheer for my brother, but I didn’t want to be a cheerleader when I got to high school, I wanted to be the starting center, just like him. He was the ultimate in coolness to me, watching a new thing called MTV and wearing Ray Bans and a Members Only jacket. All my friends though he looked like Tom Cruise in Risky Business.

My brother was 10 years older than me, he was giant, standing 6′ 7″ tall. But he was also larger than life in his personality. He was the type of person that you were just drawn to. He was smart, but incredibly easy to talk to. Every where he went, he made friends. He was my hero.

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When I was 9, he was in a terrible car accident. He had been in accidents before, in my mom’s car, and mom got so mad at him and she yelled and yelled. But this wasn’t like before. My mother didn’t look like she wanted to yell at anyone. Actually, she looked like wanted to cry… all the time. At my young age, I couldn’t have understood what was happening back then. He was in the ICU for a long time. In fact, I didn’t see my brother again until I was 10.

I remember going into Boston, to one of the big hospitals. My parents took me to a scary part of the hospital I had never seen before. There were very sick people there, and all kinds of machines attached to them. They led me into a room that held a single bed. The walls were covered with get well cards, there were balloons and flowers of all sorts. My father got a stool for me to stand on.

As I climbed up, all I could think about was how I had been trying to send my beloved Pound Puppy in to my brother via my parents for months. When they returned from visiting my brother, I would always asked if they had given it to him, and was always told he couldn’t see it.

0e98ffbc25303b503d123f93333f2627What I didn’t know at the time was he couldn’t see it because he was in a coma. So, of course my first order of business was to show my brother my Pound Puppy and explain that my puppy would make him better. I held it out over the hospital bed above my brother’s face. He tried to show his appreciation, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying. There was a big tube in his mouth, a ventilator, to help him breathe. No matter, I thought, I gave him a big hug, and told him to hurry home to play with me. He spent a year in that hospital.

His car accident was the first time I was told to be prepared, that my brother could die.  But he pulled through. After he came home, there was a period of adjustment. Our ancient colonial was not wheelchair friendly. But, my dad made the house wheelchair accessible, my brother returned to college and life went on.  I think many people would have a hard time finding out they would never walk again, but if my brother struggled with it, I couldn’t see it. Some years later he was playing another sport, Quad Rugby, and I was again on the side lines cheering for him.

Shortly after, I graduated and moved off to go to college in the South. It had been 10 years since my brother’s accident. I was out, partying with my friends, and I got a message, “Call home.”

My parents had been calling all over to find me (Ah, the days before cell phones, how did we do it?) and when I finally got in touch with them the news was not good. My brother was in the hospital with a mysterious heart problem. I jumped on the next flight home to be with my family. It turned out to be an aortic aneurysm.

I didn’t know much about his condition, but the doctors told us it was a grave matter. The aneurysm could burst and he would die within a matter of moments.

It turned out that my brother had Marfan’s Syndrome, a genetic disorder of the connective tissue. My brother’s athletic nature may have contributed to the formation of the aneurysm, as all those years of pushing himself, and his heart, can cause these issues.

My brother traded in his Quickie quad rugby chair, for a more sleek black chair. He started wearing suits and ties and settled into a more calm way of life, keeping his blood pressure down so as to not aggravate his condition. Again, life went on, and we went on with it, adjusting as need be.

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After the Marfan’s Syndrome diagnosis though, something strange happened. Each time they would check my brother and the status of his aneurysm, we were told to prepare for the end. My brother developed additional aneurysms over time. When they grew too large, he underwent surgery of the most amazing nature, they patched up his bulging arteries with sail cloth!

In 2009, my brother agreed to an aggressive surgery to repair an abdominal aneurysm. It did not go well, and we were told once again, it was the end. In order to do the operation, they essentially stopped all of his systems, and once they completed the patch up job, they started him up again. But his kidneys didn’t startup with the rest of him. He had dialysis treatments, and eventually was put into hospice care. But he had had enough.

By this time, he had negotiated his retirement from his job of 14 years. They were so thankful for his service, they gave him the full benefits package normally reserved for those that had worked 15 years or more. (After his passing, they named one of their conference rooms for him.)

I rarely saw him out of his hospital bed in his home after that. He had an electric wheelchair, and his wife managed to buy a wheelchair van suited to the heavy electric wheelchair. But he could no longer drive. My mother, sisters and I took turns each weekend sitting with him and his daughter, while his wife worked. When I would stay with him, our kids would play in the living room, leaving us to have wonderful long conversations. We had such fun.

In October of 2012, my parents called to let me know that my brother was once again going into the hospital. He was having some pain and not feeling well. I sent my well wishes with them, and told them to call me with an update after they visited him. Our family had learned over the years that when you first get to the hospital, there is a lot of paperwork, and nurses and doctors coming in and out of the room – it is not the best time for visiting.

On their way in to Boston, my parents had a fender bender. It had made the car inoperable, even though there was only slight damage. I loaded my son into the car and went to pick them up. Together, we continued on into town and waited while my brother got situated in his hospital room. Finally, we were able to go in to see him.

I remember everything about that room. It was small and there was nowhere to sit. My son was, oddly enough, 9 years old at the time. He told his uncle all about our upcoming cruise for his 10th birthday. We exchanged some more news amongst ourselves, and then decided to get going. My parents made plans to come see him the next day, after they took care of their vehicle. We all hugged him, and took off for home. It was very hectic, I had some of my parents belongings stuffed into the trunk of my Toyota Corolla. I ended up losing my phone somewhere in the car.

At 2am, my parents rang my doorbell. They had been trying to call me, but I didn’t answer, so they had to come out to my house. They had to drive out in the middle of the night to tell me their son, my brother, had passed away. I was in shock.

The doctors had told us this was possible, but my brother had beaten the odds so many times, it seemed run-of-the-mill to us. He was my hero and he was infallible. I was in such shock, I actually went to work the following day. I broke down in a meeting around 11 o’clock, blurted out, “My brother died.” and just left.

I don’t know that I’m not still in shock, three years later. I do know it helps that people remember him. To this end, I established a scholarship that is given to a senior at our old high school. It was something I could do to keep his memory going. And each year, when we go to the old school to give out the award, we see old faces, friends of my brother, who remember him fondly. It makes my parents proud to see good being done in his name, because he was so good.

By reading this, now you know his story too, the story of my hero.