Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Do we really die a little every day?

When Jack was in preschool, a very young mother – a pediatrician – died on her treadmill the week before Christmas. She had an undiagnosed heart problem, even though she exercised all the time.

A few weeks ago, one of Caroline’s friends took up a collection for their family friend, diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer when she was five months pregnant. Caroline cleaned out her piggy bank. The baby was just born and seems okay, but now the mom has to fight for her life.

Last weekend, the mother of children in both their classes died after a 15-month battle with rare adrenal cancer. Whit and I thought it was best to tell the kids, knowing they’d hear about it at school. Caroline said she would say a prayer for the little boys, and Jack said, “Wow, I’m glad you’re not dead.”

Me too, and BOY this has scared me and so many of my friends. You spend so, so long worrying that every bruise on your kids is leukemia, or that every wet bed is diabetes, or that every headache is a brain tumor (okay, SOME of us worry. Some of us don’t. You know who you are, and I remain green with jealousy that you don’t have the worrying gene).

But then, once you’re out of the woods and you can begin to let down your guard and accept that okay, you are blessed, and you really do have pretty healthy kids, EVERYONE YOUR OWN AGE STARTS GETTING SICK. And your “own age” isn’t 80, it’s 40.

And the worst part is the benign, benign symptoms – that end up being malignant. A stomach ache. A hard spot on your skin. A bruise. A mole. A headache. Nothing you’d make an emergency appointment to check.

My friend and I were saying that it’s all women who are sick because men are such babies and run to the doctor constantly, while women are too busy to schedule appointments, and then just can’t muster up the energy to park and pay and wait and then (pain in the ass) go somewhere else to get labs then repeat tests…we just can’t find the time, and our pain threshold is so raised after childbirth anyway that stage IV cancer can go completely unnoticed.

Is this just the age at which maternal mortality hits? Am I just a worrywart, or do I know too many stories?

Yes, yes, and yes. But it does seem, not just anecdotally, as though a horrifying diagnosis could be just a lightning strike away.

Carpe diem, right? More hugs, more love, more laughs. We never know how long we’ll have to do those things.

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