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The bigger picture

Every year around this time I post a glamour shot of myself in the mirror of a tiny room wearing a cotton gown that ties in the front waiting to have my breasts to be flattened out in a vice grip. The caption reminding everyone to get your mammogram and check yourself regularly. This year will be slightly different. The story is not short but hopefully worth your time.

In the beginning of December my mother-in-law hurt her back, a pulled muscle she thought and confirmed by a doctor, not really a big deal. By December 22 she was at Lenox Hill unable to move. After a night in the hospital, some serious drugs and a moment of p.t. she was able to move, barely. They had a surgery scheduled the next day but since she was able to move, we could take her home. December 23rd, she came home with us. And this is where things get interesting.

The first few weeks were hard. With no real warning we moved our house around, bought things we thought would make life easier for ourselves and her and soon our uncluttered clean quiet home has duct tape on the floor and medical equipment everywhere. Nothing stayed the same and we constantly rearranged things to suit that day’s needs. Learning more day to day, it was exhausting. Once we were able to see a new doctor, he explained that while she has spinal stenosis and a fractured L4 she also has osteoporosis so surgery would be like sewing tissue paper. He’d see us back in 3 months once she had time to heal a bit and see then what if anything we could do. Our first “Thank God we took her home” moment. Surgery would have most likely left her as immobile as she had been but in a rehab center during a global pandemic trying to recover from a surgery that achieved nothing.

Next, me being who I am made her go see a primary care physician, something she had avoided her whole life. Now I am not one for taking medications and if there is a way that I can fix myself with diet, exercise, herbs, acupuncture, whatever, I will try it long before I pop something in my mouth or have myself cut open. To be able to do that you need to know your body and what’s going on. So we began with the basic physical, found out a few things but nothing horrible. Then came the mammogram. When the results came back there was concern but since she had never had a mammogram before this may be nothing, we just didn’t have history to go by. We were hopeful, we were wrong. A visit to a surgeon and a different round of tests revealed even more. It’s not good news but she WILL be fine. This will be taken care of and with time she will be going back to her apartment and life will resume. This is what we tell ourselves because this is very likely the case. It’s scary and hard. I can’t imagine what it’s like for her. I can’t imagine what it’s like for Todd.

Two months ago, my mother-in-law was devastated. She felt awful she had to come live with us. Her freedom taken away. This was the worst thing that could happen. It was difficult for all of us but especially her, living with someone else, her entire world turned upside down. Over and over, I heard her say how awful this is. Two months later we are all so glad she hurt herself. If she hadn’t come to stay with us, I wouldn’t have forced her to get a mammogram. She would never have had a chance to fight this cancer.

I do not expect anyone to look at this situation and change your ideas or faith. I don’t believe in the idea that you should be happy because someone else has it worse and I’m not sure I completely believe that God, the universe or something higher is guiding us. I do want you to think and maybe remind yourself when times are difficult, that the lens in which we see the world, our lives, it is very small. We spend so much of our time deciding what is good and what is bad. We turn over in our heads situations and allow stories that haven’t even happened to dictate our mood. We anticipate what others will say or the outcome of something in the future. When we try to let go the idea of bad and good, of judgment, when we try to stay present we may start to shift the course of our lives. I look at the intimate moments my mother in law and I shared. The times we’ve all laughed and cried together. The moments of our lives are made up of so many different experiences and if you decide what is good or bad you are missing the beauty of it all. Had my mother in law not hurt her back she wouldn’t know about her cancer. If she hadn’t hurt her back I would not know her and she me as we do today. Through a bigger lens we can look and say maybe that wasn’t the worst thing that happened. Maybe it was a gift.

There will be a time in the future Todd and I will look back on this time. A short period of time in the space of our lives. We’ll remember it was difficult with much less of a sting and we’ll probably laugh at the things that drive us crazy right now. We’ll remember hopefully that it made our relationship stronger. I’ll remember that I really knew my mother in law, that I got a chance to do that. Through our broader lens this blip in time will be looked back on with love and I’ll be grateful I got to travel this path with my husband. My life has been made up of all kinds of moments. The difficult ones often bring us the most.

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