Is there an event in your life that altered your life path?
–I can think of three pretty significant events:
- Watching General Conference, a special session of church which is held for our church (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, or Mormon church)) every 6 months, at a time when I was applying for medical school, and getting the distinct impression that was not the right path. Soon thereafter, I withdrew my application and ended up getting my Master’s degree in Public Health.
- When I had West Nile virus – this came at a time in life where I was not active in my church. I was literally at death’s door, in the neurocritical care unit, in guarded status, and realized that the only thing I wanted, and craved, was to feel like I was ok and right with God. One of the most significant things that kept my spirits up during this experience was kindness, prayers, and visits from faithful members of my church. I had to relearn walking, talking, eating, etc. as I recovered, which gave me a lot of time to think, and I knew I wanted to go back to church. Luckily, my husband joined me, and 4 years later, we were sealed in the Bountiful Temple; to us, this is a very special occasion since we believe it will allow us to be married even after death.
- Having my daughter – I always thought I would be happy to work and raise a child (or children). We have infertility issues, so getting her here was very challenging, and took several years of disappointment, learning about fertility, etc. Eventually we went through in-vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures and were able to get her here! The most surprising thing to me, though, was just how heart-wrenching it was for me to go back to work. It has broken my heart pretty much every morning since. I know this isn’t the case for everyone, and that is wonderful, but it has been the case for me. I’ve learned so much from being a mom, from the importance of family, to the depth of love you can have for another person, to understanding God, who I think of as my Heavenly Father, just a bit more. If I had to pick one event that has changed me, that one would be it.
What times in your life truly tested you, and what did you learn about yourself by dealing (or not dealing) with them?
I was single for 34 years of my life. My days were filled working as a Nurse Practitioner, running marathons, competing in triathlons and riding my bike. These activities were safe for me, they fit nicely into my comfort zone. Others things weren’t so safe and comfortable for me – relationships and vulnerability. Many days I wondered if I was good enough to be a wife and a mother. I looked at all my flaws, my hangups, my depression and saw a very inadequate person. Fear filled my heart that I would totally mess up any child that might come my way. How could anyone want a mom or wife like me who would be happy one day and in a dark place the next day?
Antidepressants will do funny things to a person. My moods stabilized and I was able to tuck away the negative feelings about myself and start to see through the fog to the real me, a person of goodness, kindness and worth. I started taking medication in December and by January I met the man that became my husband. At last I had courage to take a leap of faith.
While my husband and I dated we talked of having kids. He had 4 beautiful children from a previous marriage but was willing and eager to have more. However, neither of us were spring chickens anymore. Our biological clocks were ticking loudly. We tried for months to have a child but were unsuccessful so we sought medical help to see if we could find an answer to our struggle. After many tests, pokings and proddings we were told that having a baby was not likely to be in our future. What? How could this be? This was not how it was supposed to go. What had I done? The thing I had been so afraid of had become the thing I wanted the most. I felt as though I had wasted all those younger years and now I was being punished. Suddenly I wanted to be a mom more than anything but was given no hope. Well, almost no hope – the doctor said we had a 1% chance of conceiving.
With such a small possibility of pregnancy we decided to start fertility treatments. Blood draws, consultations and counseling dragged on for what felt like eternity. Finally we had everything arranged to start with my next cycle, but a funny thing happened – my cycle never started. We waited day after day wondering what the problem was. Finally we decided to take a pregnancy test and the result was positive! How could this be? How could this happen when we were given such little hope? It was a miracle! What a relief! We were beyond belief. Not that we were complaining. We just beat the odds by a long shot!
Nine months later Isabelle arrived. A perfect little baby girl so full of life and potential. Once the newness of her arrival started to wear off, feelings of inadequacy began creeping in. I thought, how can a person so imperfect as I am raise this perfect little spirit? Those negative feelings and thoughts poked their head back into my life. I plead, “Please don’t let me mess her up, please help me be a good mom to her – one that nurtures, loves and doesn’t ruin that sweet innocence.”
Somehow, over time, I learned how to be a mother. Perhaps remembering how my mom raised me and through the few babysitting jobs I had as a teenager. Isabelle survived my fumblings, insecurities and even seemed to be turning out ok. Wow, maybe I am cut out to be a mother!
Over the next 5 years I settled into this new role. Then I started not feeling well. Something wasn’t right inside me. My stomach started expanding and my energy started shrinking. The veins in my legs became more prominent. My appetite changed. At first I thought my symptoms were from exercising. I had been training for and completed the Ultimate Challenge bike race, a 110 mile ride with 10,000 feet of elevation gain, who wouldn’t be tired after that? But shouldn’t my abs be flattening, not expanding? I went to my doctor. They drew some blood, ran some tests and on a Friday afternoon told me I had Ovarian Cancer – stage III-C.
Cancer runs in my family. My Grandmom died from Ovarian Cancer, so did my Aunt, just nine months before my diagnosis. My world just turned upside down. I wasn’t supposed to get cancer, at least not at such a young age. My Grandmom and Aunt were in their 60’s, so I had years to go before I needed to worry about any chance of getting cancer. My thoughts turned to my daughter. The thought of not being able to raise her felt worse than my diagnosis! My mind reviewed the past five years. Suddenly I didn’t care what kind of a mom I was, I just wanted more than anything to keep being a mom to Isabelle. I prayed, “Please God, just let me stay on earth so I can keep being her mom. Don’t take me away yet. I know I’ve made mistakes, come up short, judged too quickly, and a million other things but I have so much more to learn, to give and to become.”
Two weeks after my diagnosis I underwent surgery to remove all the cancer that was growing throughout my abdomen. The surgeon said he removed all my insides, set them on a table, sifted through them until all visible cancer cells were found and then stuffed everything back in. That’s exactly what it felt like! The surgery literally took everything out of me. I went from climbing mountains easily on by bike to struggling to stand up, let alone take a step. After 2 weeks I was able to return home much stronger than right after surgery. Now I could walk up a short flight of stairs – as long as I could lay down and rest at the top! Next came chemotherapy – 18 weeks of treatment that extended to 24 weeks due to low blood counts. I lost my hair. Isabelle wasn’t so excited to have a bald mom and dad! I invited her to shave her head too but she wrinkled her nose and told me no, 5 year olds need long hair. I wasn’t the best mom through the surgery and chemo. Instead of the normal run around together outside, we would lay together on the recliner and watch TV. She became my help and support along with my husband who stepped in and took over both his roll and mine so I could heal.
Six months after my diagnosis I completed my treatments. Sometimes it takes the threat of dying to make us want to live fully, dare greatly and love passionately. I’m not sure if I was given a 1% chance of beating cancer, but I beat the odds again. Now I have a scar down my belly (goodbye bikini days), a new head of hair and a new perspective on life. I lost days of being a mom because of fear and unruly thoughts that danced in my head. I focused on thoughts that brought me down, limited me, and diminished my true nature. I now realize that each day is a gift, too short to be wasted looking at the negative, regretting the past or worrying about the future. Today is to be lived in the present, through each breath that passes through the body, each sunrise that brightens the sky, and each smile or tear that flows from Isabelle. Yes, that is living and that is what I want Isabelle to remember about herself and her mother.