Friday is a big day for me… Not only am I going to be in the TNTML Live Show, which is a huge step out of my comfort zone, but it’s also my mom’s birthday.
With that being said I felt like there was nothing more appropriate to talk about this week than my mom, and specifically 4 lessons I learned from my mom having cancer.
First let me back track and give you some context to my mom being sick. Before middle school, I had literally the picture perfect life. My parents were so in love, my younger brother and I did well in school and participated in extracurriculars, we lived in a lovely middle-class house, we had great relationships with extended family, and things were as wonderful as you could ever image. But one day in the summer after 6th grade, my mom went to the doctor because she’d be in having some serious pain in her lower back. When she got home that afternoon, none of us expected to hear the news she had to share: She had been diagnosed with Stage 4 rectal cancer. This battle went on for the next three and a half years. My mom tried every treatment regimen the doctors knew, but nothing seemed to work. At times she was forced to wear diapers, had blisters all over her body, couldn’t eat without getting sick, had a to carry a chemo pack around her waist that dripped into her bloodstream 24/7, and this list goes on. After fighting non-stop for her life, my mom passed away in March of 2006.
But that’s not what this story is about… it’s about the fact that no matter what, my mom managed to laugh all the time, she continued to surround herself with the people she loved, and no matter what life through her way (some crazy stuff happened during these years besides her being sick), she made every day as great as she possibly could. And the lessons I learned from her have not only made me who I am today, but help me in getting out of my comfort zone and remembering to live my life to the fullest.
1. Always own who you are and what your situation is, no matter what anyone else thinks: So, one huge side effect of my mom having rectal cancer was that she had to have a colostomy bag. When she first got it, I was super embarrassed and didn’t really want my friends to know because then they would think I was weird or something like that. Ya know, flawed logic of a 12-year-old. But what I never really thought about (at the time) was how tough that had to be for my mom! I can’t imagine what that would do to your self-esteem. Can you imagine trying to feel sexy with a colostomy bag? I can barely feel sexy when I think my hair is a little too frizzy. But somehow my mom managed to own it. Sometimes things would smell funky (as you can imagine comes with the territory) or she would be pulled aside in airports for physical pat downs… but she never let this get to her. When people asked questions, she was totally open and didn’t feel the need to hide it. Having the bag was keeping her alive, so screw you if you had a problem with it. This is something I need to practice in my own life… At times I am surrounded by people who don’t necessarily understand who I am or why I do what I do with my life… There are people I would die if I found out they read my posts or freak out if they found out I kissed a boy at the bar on Saturday. But ya know what? Fuck that. Life isn’t about pleasing others. It’s about OWNING who you are.
2. Don’t take yourself too seriously: Honestly, this must have been one of my mom’s mantras. I will tell you a ridiculous story to help illustrate it for you. At one point in her treatment, my mom lost all her hair. I mean…she was COMPLETELY bald. At first, she was wearing wigs and bandanas to try and seem more “normal” for my brother and me, but eventually we convinced her to rock the Natalie Portman look. She always joked that she had a weird shaped head but no way. That’s a tough look to pull off, but she managed. Anyway, I digress – back when she was wearing the wig, she had gone to vote at a local polling station. Because we lived in South Florida, it was my mom and 50+ senior citizens. They all waited in line, which was took forever, when all of a sudden some OFF DUTY police officer came in and cut them all in line. Needless to say (if you know me at all), my mom didn’t take a lot of crap from people so she went to the front and asked why exactly he got to cut in line since he was off duty, and wasn’t it only fair he waited in line like the others. When the poll worker responded in a catty tone, letting my mom know she had no reason to complain and that he was a hero – my mom pulled her wig off in front of everyone and yelled “I HAVE CANCER. IF THAT DOESN’T GET ME TO THE FRONT OF THE LINE, I DON’T KNOW WHAT WILL.” The entire group of old people cheered her on… This didn’t result in anything changing. She still had to wait in line, and the dude still got to vote ahead of everyone else. But ya know what? She didn’t take herself too seriously and made her point because of it. There are so many examples of this, but this just so happens to be one of my favorites. Whenever I feel embarrassed or start to take myself too seriously, I try to remember that sometimes you just gotta rip your wig off in a room full of old people!
3. Say whatever the hell you want to say: My mom never struggled with words. She expressed herself more often than most people, even before she was sick. But having cancer and knowing that she didn’t have much time left made my mom even ballsier. She would tell people exactly how she felt! At times, this was great and made her relationships immensely stronger, other times it pissed people off a whole lot. Sometimes we bite our tongues because we are scared of the consequences. And sometimes, we’re right for doing that… Just because you think some girl’s outfit is unflattering, there is no need to tell her that she looks like Jabba the Hut. But at the same time, if you feel someone is treating you unfairly, there is no need to bite your tongue for fear that they won’t like you vocalizing your opinion. I’ve never really had a hard time expressing my opinions, and that is a huge thanks to my mom being the woman she was. With this one, I should probably take the opposite of this lesson and remember it’s okay to filter myself sometimes. But that’s no fun! And even the people my mom managed to upset still respected her for being honest and speaking her truth (right, Jen?).
4. Just because life sucks doesn’t mean you should stop living: We all know life gets hard sometimes. We all know there are days where we don’t want to do anything but lay in bed and blast Dashboard Confessional or Alanis Morisettte or that one song by Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow. Oh wait, is that just me? Woops. Anyway, moving on. Sometimes life totally sucks but there is no excuse to stop living. My mom getting sick made her live life even more! The year after she was diagnosed, we didn’t all just stay home while mom got chemo and went to the doctor’s office… We went on a 6-week road trip around the country! My mom coordinated with her doctors so she could get her treatment at different hospitals so we could travel the nation and not have to worry about it! This will always be one of my all-time favorite memories. But this didn’t stop there. One weekend my mom rented a convertible because she had never driven one before. If she was craving lobster, we’d make the two hour drive to the Keys just for dinner. No matter what, she did what she wanted to do and lived 100%. More than ever this lesson is relevant in my life right now. There are days where I don’t want to do anything because I don’t know where to go, or because all of my friends are busy, or because it’s just hard to put yourself out there… But there is literally NO excuse that makes it okay for me to waste my days when I want to be doing something. Life is for living and if you’re not doing that, you might as well give up.
As I began writing this post, I doubted myself. I wasn’t sure it would fit in with my theme of talking about my comfort zone and I also wasn’t sure how emotional I’d get writing about my mom, especially so close to her birthday. But it has been so freaking good for my soul. Getting to reminisce about her through words never gets old. And by opening up to you nerds about her, I honestly feel like I am stepping out of my comfort zone and letting you in to a huge part of my life and something that has shaped me to be who I am. If you ever wonder why I’m loud or vulgar or kinda crazy… My mom is the lady to thank! She would love this community and think it’s so rad that I’m writing for TNTML. So as I continue forward in the quest of getting uncomfortable (and maybe a little weird) I’ll hold these lessons close. And as I learn from these, I’m sure I will realize how many more she was able to teach me.
Friday I will have both a beer and a cupcake in her honor! Let’s party!