I'll be 50 years old in January. I know my birthday is still months away, but I've been reflecting on my life a lot lately.
I have secondary/progressive multiple sclerosis. I was diagnosed about 25 years ago, while living away from home in southeast England, but the "Monster" has finally caught up with me.
Without suffering any serious or lasting symptoms for all those years, I figured my regimen of the right diet and exercise had it beat. Of course, there wasn't much stress in my life in the beginning. I was young, newly married and completely enjoying living overseas.
Four years after my diagnosis, I was pregnant with my beautiful daughter, Colleen, moved back to the States and got on with my life. Three years later, my amazing son came along, and there I was, living my dream. Being a mom to a boy and a girl was what I had always dreamed of. I was lucky enough to be a stay-at-home mom most of the time and loved every minute of it. I did all kinds of fun activities with my young children, and life was good.
Then stress reared its ugly head. For years I constantly lived in fight-or-flight mode, which has just now begun to recede. My son, Cale, began his own medical journey at age 3, with eight surgeries on his foot over the next few years. He had something called a hemangioma that grew like an aggressive ivy with a life of its own. Trips to Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland, crutches, skin grafts, missed basketball seasons and general doctor/insurance coordinating began. Poor young man even went on a first date with a "wound-vac" making sucking noises in a fanny pac strapped to his waist! (There was no second date.)
But that's not all. My daughter become severely ill a few years later. She was diagnosed with a rare illness called Goodpasture's Syndrome. Usually affecting older men, she was a rare case. The life-changing disease with the happy-sounding name caused my daughter's kidneys to fail at age 9. The drives to Doernbecher continued. Ronald McDonald House had a standing reservation for us.
First came dialysis, a successful kidney transplant and a lifetime of anti-rejection drugs. At first we thought I could not donate my kidney to her because of my MS diagnosis. But the doctors assured me that whatever was going to be passed on to her already had been. So in the year 2000, I gave my best kidney to my daughter, and 13 years later it's performing like an incredible, super-bionic, never-giving-up, I'm-here-forever kind of organ. It's never been happier.
Long story short, it has survived two bouts of non-Hodgkins lymphoma (thanks to all the lovely drugs she had to take) and two stints on life support.
I have witnessed both my children go through horribly painful procedures over and over. I have not only been a mom, but breadwinner, nurse, caretaker. I would not change my role for anything. I would do anything for these kids. All you moms out there know exactly what I mean. Every time the phone rings to this day, I kick into fight-or-flight mode automatically, expecting the worst.
Jump ahead to the present day: two divorces later, my beloved 12-year career as a self-employed massage therapist is virtually over due to my disability. I now am the proud owner of a cane, a walker and a wheelchair for those really bad days. I take handfuls of drugs every day.
My focus is on my body — stretching tight, spastic muscles, resting, planning my days with only one major activity, resting some more, going to yoga class, doctor appointments, more rest and infusion sessions.
You might think I am bitter, but you'd be wrong.
I live in a beautiful, nurturing home with a man who has made my physical circumstances bearable. I often tell him that he is my calm in the storm. He has accepted me and all my ups and downs. He makes all my bad days easier. I am so grateful for the love of this man. We nurture each other.
Most of all, I am grateful for my children. We have switched roles. No longer am I the one sitting in the visitor's chair watching my daughter receive chemotherapy for the third time. Now she sits with me while I get my turn at poison cursing through my veins.
No longer am I helping my son out of the car, with his foot in an orthopedic boot, crutches and wound-vac in tow. Now he helps me out of the car, assisting me to the front door and up the stairs. I am experiencing joy like no other, just witnessing my grown children become young, caring adults. They both work full-time, helping physically and mentally disabled adults make it through their days and nights. Wow!
I've learned that gratitude comes in the strangest places. At a time in my life that could be devastating, I try and succeed every day to find something to be happy about. And those somethings are right under my nose. My children, my boyfriend and the place I get to call home.
As I sit outside on the deck, watching and listening to the birds in our backyard bird sanctuary, two overly friendly dogs at my side, I reflect on my almost 50 years. I have had a full and wonderful life thus far. To be surrounded by people who love and care for me is overwhelming. My family fills me with joy. I have always been a nurturer, but to be the one receiving the nurturing is strange. I had to learn how to accept it. But the joy and gratitude I have felt so purely and genuinely comes easily.
Joy reader Karen McCoy lives in Talent.