How one experience will shape the next

Isn’t it interesting how life experiences, even at a very young age, can affect how you approach problems later in life? 

I’ve had a number of people ask me how Carl and I can stay so positive in our current situation. 

“I’m not sure how you’re doing it - I’d be a mess,” they say. 

“You seem like you’re doing so well with this - how?” they ask.

Let’s get one thing straight - cancer is a tough diagnosis to hear. It’s a long, grueling process toward healing. It’s not easy, and my feelings toward it aren’t the same from day to day.

But people’s comments have made me wonder where my perspective came from. 

 
  We recently spent some time at N.C. State with the girls. It's always great to get out of the house!

We recently spent some time at N.C. State with the girls. It's always great to get out of the house!

 

How am I handling this better than people expect? 

First and foremost, there’s been a lot of prayer and a lot of faith. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I couldn’t do this without the community supporting me. There’s power in numbers and relationships and, quite simply, God. 

  My sister, Sarah, and my Nana, Frances Lee.

My sister, Sarah, and my Nana, Frances Lee.

But, when I reflect on experiences that have shaped my perspective over the years, I come back to 1994. I was in fourth grade. We had just moved into the house my parents still live in today, and, a few months later, my Nana moved in with us. 

Now, as kids, it was pretty awesome to have your Nana living with you. She gave us lots of surprises, let us put on an endless number of amateur "musicals" for her, and wanted us to sing with her at any given point in the day. (For those of you that don’t know, I grew up singing and playing the flute.)

But, she wasn’t living with us to do all these things.

She moved in because her Parkinson’s Disease caused her body to slow down. It wasn’t safe for her to live alone anymore, and she needed full-time care.

My mom took on the role of her primary caregiver. She did this without hesitation, without question. 

And it wasn’t until recently that I realized how important this event was in shaping my outlook on tough events. 

  Sarah helping Nana up from her chair.

Sarah helping Nana up from her chair.

See, my mom didn’t wallow in her mom’s decline, at least not in front of me.

My mom took on every situation that Parkinson's threw at us with tenacity and courage, but also with grace and love. Parkinson's may have been taking over Nana's body, but Mom wasn't going to let things happen without a fight.

I never saw my mom get scared - even through the multiple trips with Nana to the hospital for various infections and other complications. 

Instead, I saw my mom advocate. She ensured that her mom was receiving the best that healthcare had to offer. She questioned doctors when something didn't seem right, and she did as much research as possible on the endless number of medications Nana consumed everyday.

She did all of this without complaining.

She did all of this reminding Sarah and me (on numerous occasions):

This is how we’re supposed to take care of the people that we love.
 
  My mom and her mom, Nana.

My mom and her mom, Nana.

 

Keep in mind that since my mom was Nana's full-time caregiver, that meant we were tied pretty close to our house. 

We didn't go on vacations.

My mom couldn't leave the house unless someone was there to watch Nana, so we accepted help from an incredible group of family and friends.

We made the best of everything. We knew that Nana wouldn’t get better, but we weren’t going to let a prognosis rob us of an opportunity to spend quality time together. 

We had family dinners, and Nana sat at the head of the table. 

Dad was still in broadcasting during this time, which meant that he went to bed by 7 p.m. so he could by at work around 2 a.m.

  Parkinson's causes tremors of the hands. Nana couldn't apply her make-up, so I learned how to help her put on her lipstick. (And, in this picture, I was sharing one of my hats with her.)

Parkinson's causes tremors of the hands. Nana couldn't apply her make-up, so I learned how to help her put on her lipstick. (And, in this picture, I was sharing one of my hats with her.)

If there was ever an exemplary model of how to treat your in-laws, it had to come from my dad. My dad treated Nana with the same respect he gives my mom. He would sit with Nana so Mom could get out of the house.

He would even do the messy parts of the job. And there were plenty of times that he and Nana just had to laugh because a situation like helping her to the bathroom was awkward, but he was the only one there to help. And so he did. 

As a rising middle schooler, I was given responsibilities of helping with Nana - leading her daily physical therapy exercises, supporting her as she would get up and down from chairs, grabbing pickles for her out of the fridge when she wanted a snack.

We didn’t harp on the tough spots. 

I distinctly recall in January 1996, when my mom was told that Nana only had a couple of weeks to live, that we all prepared for the end. Nana was confined to a bed at that point, but it didn’t stop us from sharing stories, singing, and snuggling. 

Nana passed away two days after her birthday in April 1996 - three months later than doctors had predicted.

Can you imagine if we had let that two week prognosis weigh us down? If we had just succumbed to the terrible news? We would have missed out on so much.

 
  Nana, Sarah, and me.

Nana, Sarah, and me.

 

And that’s the thing about a cancer diagnosis - if you wallow in it, you’ll miss out on so much. 

I’ve made so many new friends through this process. Women I would have never met otherwise. I've met them while sitting in the infusion chair, I've met them through other survivors, and I've met them through Facebook groups that exist just for people with my diagnosis.

I've become closer to a small group of my girlfriends, because they allow me to share what's going on each week and they check in to make sure I have what I need. 

I’ve generated a better appreciation for our healthcare system and the men and women that work tirelessly to help people like me every single day. The nurses and doctors I've worked with at UNC Rex Healthcare are by far some of the most caring people - and they take care of numerous patients just like me day in and day out. 

I’ve learned that I’m stronger than I thought I was. That my family is strong. That my relationships are strong. That I have a community behind me and, together, we can achieve anything. 

But, most importantly, what I learned as a kid in the 90's is that the key to tackling tough situations requires tenacity and positivity. 

Thanks, Mom.