I was 6 years old when I realized that I could lose my mom forever. My mom’s friend was driving us in her Volkswagen Bus to the 4th of July parade in our small town. When we parked, I looked over at my mom still sitting in her seat and all I saw was blood. All over the seat. As I found out later, my mom had uterine fibroid tumors and one of them hemorrhaged. I remember the ambulance carting her away and scared to think of what was happening to my mom. My grandmother had passed away about a year and half prior to this and I was just beginning to understand what death meant. I believe it was this defining moment in all of my six years of life that had me cling to my mom and I would do anything for her. From that moment on, my worst fear in life was losing her. I only had one fear in my life. One fear that I would cry myself to sleep at night as a kid. Sure I was afraid of trying new things or meeting new people, but I embraced that kind of fear. I challenged it. But the fear of losing my mom…that was almost paralyzing. Something that would inevitably happen. I was so full of fear and panic at times and I would do anything for her, to make her “invincible.”
Fast forward about 10 years, I was a 16 year old nerdy, introverted, artistic, 80’s hair band fanatic. My mom was experiencing symptoms that she didn’t understand. Her sister Sharon encouraged her to see a doctor to see if she was Diabetic. Her doctor told her she was just fat and needed to lose weight. Her NEW doctor did the appropriate tests to confirm she was indeed Type II Diabetic.
When she wanted to get in shape I was totally onboard. Anything to prolong mom’s life. She wasn’t dying, but my memories always took me back to that day. What I saw. I wanted to help in any way I could. We walked almost every day after I got home from school. We got VHS workout tapes of Richard Simmons and Tony Little and worked out a few times per week to the videos. I didn’t exactly fit in with the athletic crowd and that’s about all I knew how to support her. We didn’t know what we were really doing but I liked how each workout felt. We had a good start to things but ultimately, there was always work to be done and a project that needed to be completed. We were inconsistent but got to it when we could.
Over the next couple of years while I was still in high school I began to put connections together that bad foods and lack of exercise made for an unhealthy body. Seems like a no brainer now but at the time, it wasn’t talked about. I began looking at my family and those who ate and drank and were overweight. I noticed a lot of my friends were that way too. I started putting the pieces together and decided what I DID NOT want my life to look like. Realizing later what the meaning of an addict is, I knew I could easily fall into that trap and I worked like hell to not follow in the footsteps of some of my family and friends who had turned to alcohol, drugs or food. Instead, I became a workaholic, but I digress. That’s another story. I began racing BMX with some friends and one friend in particular took me to a local gym and taught me the ways of strength training. I was hooked. We raced BMX and lifted together for several years and my love for fitness continued to grow.
More importantly, I wanted to continue this path to help mom become healthier. I was there during her struggles and I remember feeling helpless not knowing what to do. We’d continue to walk but her work would often take priority over exercise. Eventually, nearly 10 years after graduating high school, I decided to switch my bachelors from Art Studio and Art History to Exercise Science and Nutrition. I had to continue to help mom in some way and this was the direction I needed to go.
December 29, 2006, just months after graduating the University of New Mexico, my mom suffered a heart attack. Thankfully she recognized the symptoms immediately and was able to call for help. She had 90% blockage in her right coronary artery, had two stents put in and got a new lease on life. After her heart attack she was totally onboard putting herself first and making changes. I created a meal plan for her and we eased into walking again that ultimately lead to her losing 30 pounds in 6 months. She had never felt better and her cardiologist said she was one of his star patients!
Things were great until her thyroid levels changed and needed her thyroid medication adjusted (something that I would learn later from my own personal struggle). Mom gained her weight back very quickly and we were both confused, frustrated and a bit pissed off.
It would be two years later to realize just what all of that felt like. I had given birth to our first baby girl and within 6 weeks my thyroid levels were so far off the spectrum I was prompted to see an endocrinologist immediately. At first, I was diagnosed with HYPERthyroidism and 3 months later with medication, I was feeling fantastic.
Three weeks later I went from feeling phenomenal to feeling extremely lethargic and foggy headed. My hair was falling out, my speech felt slurred, my body felt weighted down with bricks, and it would feel like my body was nailed to the bed and could not wake up. My lips, jaw and entire body would go numb and start cramping up. I was told “this is the new you now and it’s probably just new mommy fatigue” and basically to get used to it.
My thyroid levels went so far down the other end of the spectrum and was diagnosed with HYPOthyroidism and Hashimotos, an auto-immune disease where anti-bodies are attacking the thyroid gland. I remembered what happened with mom and her immediate weight gain. I admit I was fearful I was headed down that same path.
I call BS. There is NO way this is the NEW me.
It took three years for my thyroid levels to finally balance out, blood work every six weeks, different medications that didn’t make me sick and learning the importance of the adrenals and nutrition for auto-immune. I had to get brave with my doctor and request things she didn’t approve of and fought me on. When she finally agreed she phrased it “WHEN this doesn’t work, you’ll go back on this other medication.”
Seven years later and it’s still working and I am ME again.
Mom continued to struggle with her thyroid which affected her weight and emotions that contributed to her stress eating and continued fighting her diabetes due. She wanted to be healthy, she wanted to lose weight, and she fought and struggled for it. It was a viscous cycle for her.
March 22, 2014, my greatest fear became a reality when my mom, my best friend, passed away after suffering a stroke just 2 days prior. My birthday is March 19th and I like to think she held on as long as she could so this didn’t happen on my birthday. Her close friend passed away on her grandson’s birthday and I remember mom saying “you couldn’t hold on one more day?”
The hardest part of all of that was that I was the one who had to make the decision to let her go. After all of these years trying to make her “invincible.” It was either to let her go or have the option of a surgery that would relieve some of the pressure in her head. She wouldn’t have had any quality of life and would’ve only lived another 2-3 months as a vegetable. We had conversations over the years and even two months prior to her stroke that if something like that happened to her, to not let her live like that. Even though those were her wishes, it was the most unimaginable thing to give the ok.
My siblings and I brought her home and made her as comfortable as possible. We knew it would be only a matter of hours before it was her time. Mom was spent the last ten years or more devoting her time and energy into her church. When we called her Bishop to let him know about mom, he didn’t hesitate one minute and came as soon as he could to give her a blessing. 20 minutes later, she was gone. She was waiting for him. I felt a warm pressure on my back as I lay over her legs. My sister felt a sweeping motion across her face. One of my clients who is a hospice nurse later told me that her patients’ families experience that all the time. She likes to think that the pressure was a hug and the sweep across the face was a kiss. I cherish that and know that she is finally ok.
They say that the Lord doesn’t give you more than you can handle. While I admit I’m more of a spiritual, talking to the universe hippie of sorts that quote kept running through my mind as this greatest fear was piling on our family.
There have been many challenges that I continued to face since my mom’s passing but with each challenge that seemed impossible to get through, that quote always comes back to me and there has always been another door that opened.