Tag Archives: Hospital

Feeling Settled

18 Aug

I’m not even sixty yet, but lately I’ve experienced a weariness that reminds me of how I felt after giving birth. It’s my own fault—I spend way too much time worrying about other people’s problems—mostly those of my elderly mother and my four grown children. I have this ridiculous habit of immediately making other people’s problems my own.

The other day, I mentioned to my daughter that I must be a serious empath, and she gave me a look. You know that look—where your kid thinks they know more than you?

“Mom,” she said, looking me squarely in the eye, “Maybe you’re not really an empath. Maybe you’ve just spent your whole life thinking that it’s your job to fix everyone.”

Woah. My kids are definitely smarter than I am.

Growing up in a dysfunctional alcoholic family, I honed my role as middle daughter/worrywart/peacemaker at an early age. On my little shoulders, I carried the blame for the chaos and drama that permeated our family, thinking that if I did everything right, I could fix it—and life would finally feel settled.

Settled. What does that even mean?

My eighty-five year-old mother (who lives with us) recently spent three weeks in the hospital for a massive abdominal infection caused by diverticulitis. She had to have major surgery, and for a time we were worried she wasn’t going to make it. Coupled with the stress of possibly losing my mom, I had to take care of her three Dalmatians. In the flurry of getting Mom the care she needed, she neglected to tell me that her thirteen year-old Dal, Fiona, was supposed to be taking daily medication for arthritis pain. Seeing the rapid rate at which Fiona declined, I seriously thought I was going to have to call the vet to come put her down. Imagine having to tell your mother that her precious dog died while she was in the hospital! Eventually we figured it all out, and with her meds, Fiona is back to her old self.

“Okay,” I thought, “Fiona is good—now things will settle down.”

The day we went to the hospital to pick Mom up and bring her home, I was optimistic that we had made it through the hard part. But no. Ready to leave, with of her belongings stuffed into plastic bags, Mom began vomiting. It turned out that her intestines were not functioning properly (a common hiccup that occurs early on with this type of surgery, but Mom’s symptoms came much later in the process.) She ended up staying another four days in the hospital.

Definitely not settled.

Mom finally came home and is now miraculously regaining her independence. “Yes!” I thought, pumping my fist into the air, “Back to normal! Now I can finally settle down and relax.”

Not quite. More changes are on the way in the Mireles household. One kid is moving out, two more are moving in (along with two more dogs and a cat!) Household projects are in the works—the chaos ensues.

Life is always offering us lessons. There will be no settling down around here for the time being—and this is definitely something I need to learn. The truth is, I need to recognize that feeling settled is not about having peace and quiet, but it’s about feeling supported. Feeling settled is having your grown kids around to hug you and tell you it’s all going to be okay. Feeling settled is watching the reaction of my mom’s dog see her for the first time in three weeks. Feeling settled is making a face and laughing while changing my mother’s colostomy bag.

Feeling settled is accepting that I AM NOT IN CONTROL.

So I’m just going to stand up tall, hold my arms out wide, and try to catch all the good stuff that’s being thrown my way.

Here’s one example:

Cancer Causes Love

26 Sep

On a recent sultry September afternoon, I watched happily as my seven year-old daughter, Isa scrambled around with other children at the park, her long, dark hair swinging across her back as she dodged the hot sun under a canopy of shady oak trees. She’s come a long way since that time five years ago when her little bald head was as smooth and hairless as a ripe honeydew melon.

Last Sunday, our family attended the annual reunion party for the Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital Pediatric Oncology Department where Isa was treated for her leukemia when she was two years old. We always look forward to going to this event because we get to see the many friends that we’ve made at the hospital, but mostly we go because sometimes we just need to be reminded of how lucky we are.

Isa, about a month before her cancer diagnosis.

Isa has now been cancer free for over five years, and so our day to day lives no longer revolve around chemo treatments, bone marrow aspirations, spinal taps or blood and platelet transfusions. No longer do I wake up in a panic in the middle of the night because my daughter is running a fever and I have to rush her to the hospital. It’s been a very long time since I had to cradle her head as she vomited from the chemo or deal with her black moods brought on by the steroids.

As time goes on it gets easier to forget that scary time in our lives. Things have returned to normal—or to whatever “normal” is. My husband and I still experience the usual day to day worry that many other married couples do—such as how to pay the bills, how to pay the bills, and how to pay the bills, but this particular worry is nothing compared with the added anxiety that our child could possibly die.  Luckily, we’re now home free and we get to cross cancer off our list.

Isa, bloated and bald after six months of chemo.

This is why I’m writing about pediatric cancer again. At the hospital reunion party I saw children of all colors and sizes—more than a few of them with bald heads, and I was reminded that there are still too many families who have yet to cross cancer off their list. I was reminded of three year-old Lexi Krasnoff, who at last year’s party, took off all of her clothes and ran naked through the park, the dome of her fuzzy head gleaming in the sun. Lexi wasn’t with us at the party this time because she died of her leukemia last February. Her parents have crossed cancer off their list, but not in the way they had prayed.

Cancer is always a very nasty thing, especially when it comes to children, and it’s always a struggle no matter what the circumstances are. Yet there is one beneficial side effect from cancer, whether your child lives or dies from this disease: It is LOVE.

During those first days when Isa was in the hospital, when I was as terrified and vulnerable as a child lost in the wilderness, I experienced a huge shift in my consciousness. I became aware that I was not all alone in this universe and that there were multitudes of people around me—hospital staff, family, friends, and even complete strangers whose love for Isa and our family enveloped us in huge bear hug and lifted us out of that all consuming darkness and fear. I was open to something I would have never known before Isa’s cancer diagnosis: the genuine connection of pure love that exists between each and every one of us.

There’s just something about a child with cancer that makes you forget that negative way of thinking—you know what I’m talking about—those feelings of judgment, resentment, envy and hate with which we’ve become so damn comfortable.

When you learn of an innocent child who’s been diagnosed with cancer, your first reaction is “That poor family! What can I do to help?”  You stop thinking of yourself for a moment and your heart opens up a little more. Your perspective on life changes and you realize how lucky you are that your child is not experiencing something so dire. Perhaps you even begin to appreciate those around you more and your capacity to give and receive love becomes more significant. Your connection with others begins to synchronize and you begin to understand that all of us are exactly the same on the inside.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could experience this profound connection with others without a child having to suffer through the disease of cancer? Wouldn’t it be incredible if it didn’t take something as hideous as pediatric cancer to allow us to love and appreciate each other on a deeper level?  Wouldn’t it be perfect if no child ever had to suffer through surgery, chemotherapy or radiation again in order to teach us about this magnificent gift of love?

There’s no doubt about it—love grows and evolves when a child is diagnosed with cancer. I’ve seen it happen over and over again. And because September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, it’s a time when we all need to be reminded to nurture this love and spread it around. There is ample opportunity to help: volunteer for an organization that helps children with cancer, make a donation to cancer research, or reach out to a family whose child has been diagnosed with cancer.

Let’s keep this awareness alive and do all we can to find a cure so that someday, an innocent child won’t have to suffer through the pain of cancer treatment just so you and I can learn to love each other the way we’re meant to.

http://teddybearcancerfoundation.org/

http://www.sbch.org/OurHospitals/CottageChildrensHospital/tabid/150/Default.aspx

http://www.curesearch.org/

http://www.lls.org/