07 September 2016

Life: Making Better Choices

I started taking blood pressure medication this summer. I've suspected my blood pressure was high for some time. Years, in fact. I've ignored it, blamed it on circumstances, made excuses for it. I didn't want to take medication. In some twisted way, I considered taking pills a failure. Choosing to not take them meant that I was in control.

I believe that we all see life through a filter of the events that have affected us. Those events shape how we view the world and how we make decisions. And although my mom would not be pleased that I'm sharing details of her story, it illustrates how making the wrong choices can ultimately hurt not only you but those around you, in ways you would never have anticipated.

One of my my most vivid childhood memories is of standing at the kitchen counter and watching my mom carefully slice pills with a paring knife. At first I didn't understand what she was doing or why she was doing it. Over time I watched as she shaved more and more from those pills until eventually there were no more pills to cut.

You see, when I was in first or second grade, my mom had had open heart surgery to close a hole between the chambers of her heart. She was one of the first two patients in our area to have the surgery, and I later came to understand that it had been a very risky operation. There were even newspaper articles written about it. Although she never verbalized it to me at the time, when I discovered her funeral plans tucked into the family Bible, I realized that my mom had not expected to survive that surgery.

But she did survive. She thrived, in fact. The only downside was that she had to take one pill each day for the rest of her life. 

At some point, Mom felt so well that she decided she no longer needed to see her cardiologist, the one who had saved her life. And those pills? She would wean herself from them by slicing off a little bit at a time. To her, that meant taking control.

Many years and many heartaches later, I have my theories as to why my mom didn't want to take her medication or see a doctor. But the truth of the matter is that Mom did just fine without her pills -- or at least it appeared that way -- until the last year of her life.

Mom's breast cancer diagnosis came as a huge shock to me. It wasn't a shock to her, but that's a story for another day. Unfortunately, her tumor could not be removed until reducing it in size through chemotherapy. We found some relief in learning that her cancer, while considered "locally advanced", was the type that typically responded well to chemo. Although the situation was grim, at least there was a treatment plan. In fact, her prognosis looked promising.

Sadly, it was at that point that all those years of neglecting her health caught up with her. Tests revealed that failing to take her medication had caused her heart to enlarge and weaken significantly. Chemo, they said, would be too much for her heart to endure. 

I was shell-shocked to hear those words. My mom could not receive the very treatment she needed to save her life. In one sickening moment, I realized the horrendous impact of failing to take those pills.

After consulting with other oncologists, her doctor came up with an alternative treatment plan which proved surprisingly effective in reducing her tumor in size. In the meantime, she was started on medication to strengthen her heart, with the hope that it could tolerate the chemotherapy which would eventually be required following surgery. 

But that day never came. On a Friday before her scheduled surgery date, she received a call from her surgeon, hung up the phone, and suffered a massive heart attack. All those years of neglect had weakened her heart beyond repair. When push came to shove, when she needed the emotional and physical reserves to get through the stress, her heart just couldn't handle it.

There's a lot more to this story, but it's not for today. Did my mom -- or God -- take ultimate control to avoid a surgery she didn't want to have? Who knows. It's taken a good deal of painful therapy for me to unravel -- and re-ravel -- all of those conflicting thoughts which make grief so complex and move past the anger I feel toward my mom. On most days, I've come to terms with it, but occasionally those feelings bubble up inside me. I loved my mom dearly, but I believe that if she had made different -- better -- choices, we would still have her here today. Oh, how I wish she had chosen differently.

After all these years grappling with how we lost her, I have come to one very sad conclusion: How easily she might have prevented so much heartache -- saved herself, even -- by taking that one little pill each day. ONE PILL.

So back to this summer. Once again I found myself sitting at the doctor's office, my blood pressure sky high. It occurred to me that by continuing to neglect my heart, I was guilty of the same behavior that ultimately killed my mom. I am my mother's daughter, that's for sure.

 But that's where it stops. I can -- and will -- make better choices. I looked at my doctor and said, "I need to do something about this." 

I took control of my health in a different way. I made a better choice -- for me and those who care about me. After years of angst, it turned out to be a simple solution.

I take the pill. 

Missing you, Mom. 


Kristina Botts said...

I get it. My mother also decided at some point in her life to quit going to the doctor. She never got a colonoscopy when you were suppose to and she excused her abdominal issues as IBS. Sometimes, even when we take care of ourselves, we still have to rely on medication. I take a pill a day for my GERD and a pill a day for my arthritis and prior to their deaths, both of my parents were on high blood pressure and high cholesterol meds. So far I've avoided both and hope to continue in that path, but if my doctor recommended I do, then I would. Thanks for sharing your story.

Janet said...

Kristina, thank you for stopping by. I'm sorry you went through all of that with your mom. I wonder if it is/was a generational thing with our moms resisting medical care? It's really been on my mind lately. Hope you're doing well...I know your family has been through a lot of late. Grief is sure not an easy path, as you well know. HUGS!

Kimberly Marie said...

I'm sure this post was difficult to relay, but I'm so glad you shared it with us. I think as moms the mentality of tending to everyone else first and neglecting, or letting go of ourselves in the process is sadly all too common. The reality that we are susceptible to illness and disease just doesn't take top priority when we feel we're too busy and don't have the time to care for ourselves properly when we're so busy tending to everyone and everything else. I know your mom chose to keep reducing her heart pill, but, like you said - we have this idea that NOT taking medicine somehow means WE are in control of the situation.... And as you shared in your touching and very sad story, that couldn't be further from the truth! I, too, am slowly starting to take whatever it is I need to keep myself healthy, happy and HERE for my family for a long time to come! Hope you're doing well and feeling great now that you have your blood pressure under control.