Nothing to Worry About

“I’m afraid I’m not good at things,” she says.

She’s 10. That’s normal, right? To be 10 and worried about not being good at things?

“Why do you say that?” I ask.

I’m the mom. I’m supposed to ask. Not to assuage (“Oh, Sweetie, that’s silly! You’re good at lots of things!”). Not to assume (not good at math, not good at piano, not good at sports) but to inquire, to let her take the lead, to listen so that she feels heard.

“Because I’m worried…” she says.

Worried is worrisome. A big word for a little girl.

She hesitates.

I worry too. I’m the mom. I’m supposed to worry, right? And this conversation is starting to worry me.

Because I’ve always been a worrier, since I was her age, in fact, my thoughts in constant overdrive, my psyche and my shoulders forever bearing the weight of an uneasiness here, a burden there. The anxiety of school and tests and marks. The anguish about friends and boys and relationships. The existential questioning of my marriage, my parenting, the weather.

But most of all, I worry about her. The typical worries that every mom has for her 10-year-old daughter. The being snubbed/being picked on/being left out kind of worries. The getting lost/falling off your bike/getting hurt kind of worries.

And worse worries, too. How could a mother not worry about worse things, with the never-ending barrage of tragic headlines and Facebook Amber Alerts? The being abducted/being assaulted/being murdered by a stranger kind of worries. The being betrayed /being violated/being destroyed by someone she knows and trusts and loves kind of worries.

But I’ve got other worries too, worries all my own. The worries of a mom whose 10-year-old daughter has diabetes.

And this is why I’m holding my breath, dreading what she’ll say next. Panicked that despite my best efforts to protect her from my own insecurities, she’s seen right through me. Flooded with guilt that she’s figured out that she’s at the root of my fears. Terrified that my worries are now hers.

Because I worry that no matter how closely I monitor her blood sugar, she’ll drop dangerously low. I worry that no matter how precisely I calculate her carb intake, she’ll spike dangerously high. I worry that every minute that she’s not with me (she’s at school, she’s at her grand-parents’, she’s playing outside with friends) is another 60 seconds that I can’t keep an eye on her and on her continuous glucose monitor and on whether she’s trending high or low and whether I need to do something about it.

(“Have a juicebox, Sweetie.”)

(“Looks like you need another shot of insulin, Sweetie.”)

I worry that I’ll make a mistake. That I’ll do her harm. Those are two of the worst worries. But they’re not the ones that keep me up at night.

(Because I have made mistakes.

I’ve miscalculated her dose and given her too much insulin and watched her blood glucose plummet. “Give her anything she wants to eat,” the on-call doctor advised over the phone. “Ice cream, cookies, bacon…now’s the time to let her indulge. Just get as much food into her as you can.” Because you can’t take the insulin back out once you’ve injected it in.

And I’ve forgotten to take the needle guard off her insulin pump infusion set before I inserted it into her belly and seen her blood glucose skyrocket. “Take the pump off her now,” yet another on-call doctor advised during yet another frantic call. “Give her an injection of 10 units by syringe right away. Check her urine for ketones again in two hours and then call me back.” Because if the insulin doesn’t get into her, her useless pancreas certainly isn’t going to pick up the slack. And the last thing we want is another trip to emergency for diabetic ketoacidosis.

Everyone makes mistakes, right? Even moms.)

No, the worries that wake me up at night, the worst ones are the ones that haven’t happened yet.

Because, even though the everyday is exhausting at best and overwhelming at worst, it’s never just about the diabetes. It’s about all of the potential future complications she faces because of the diabetes.

It’s her increased chance of developing celiac disease. (Let’s add the burden of going gluten-free to all of the carb counting and calculating, shall we?)

It’s the fact that one third of people who have had diabetes for more than 15 years will develop kidney disease. (She was diagnosed at 6. She’ll be a tender 21 when this becomes a distinct possibility.)

It’s the potential nerve damage that could lead to infections, gangrene and amputation. (Please, god, don’t let my daughter lose a limb.)

It’s the eye issues: cataracts, glaucoma, retinopathy. (Please, god, don’t let my baby girl go blind.)

And while we’re at it, how about anxiety? Depression? Eating disorders? It’s bad enough that she’s a girl and already more likely than her brother to have mental health, self-esteem and body issues. Let’s make her hyper-aware of every morsel of food she consumes, force her to prick her fingers for blood tests 10 times a day, attach an insulin pump and tubing to one side of her stomach and a continuous glucose monitor sensor to the other, and see what those do for her mental health, self-esteem and body image.

Those are the ones that keep me up at night.

So when people ask how we’re coping, I don’t say, “We’re getting the hang of things. But what if no matter how hard we try, we can’t control it?”

When people ask how she’s doing, I don’t say, “She’s doing better. But what if no matter how well we control it, she ends up anorexic/on dialysis/blind anyway?”

And when people insist, “Yes, but how are you?” I certainly never say, “Really, I’m fine. But what if she dies and somehow it’s my fault?”

Because this is what’s at the core of every glance at her glucose monitor to see what her numbers are. Of every extra finger pick just to be sure the monitor is calibrated correctly. Of every recalculation of every carb. Of every verification that the insulin dose her pump is recommending corresponds to what I’ve already figured out it should be, based on her current blood glucose, her insulin-to-carb ratio for that time of day, and what sort of physical activity she might have coming up in the next hour or two (or already had in the hour or two previous).

Yes, I worry. But really, I’m fine.

(But what if?)

And honestly, there’s no point getting into all that. I wouldn’t want to worry anyone.

“…because it could happen, you know,” she’s saying, and I realize that in my panic I’ve missed what she said.

She sees it too, and with a petulant little huff, she repeats, “The end of the world, Mom! I’m worried that if the world was ending and I had to save my family, I wouldn’t be good enough at stuff to save them!”

Not at all what I was expecting. Although considering the books she’s been reading lately, this isn’t a total surprise. Like her brother, she gravitates towards adventures. Stories with children unwillingly propelled into extraordinary situations. Confronting great challenges. Facing terrifying odds.

Sound familiar?

I can’t help but see the parallels that, for now at least, she is completely unaware of: the fact that she’s already on her own harrowing adventure, confronting daily challenges and facing terrifying long-term odds.

No, this isn’t what’s preoccupying her 10-year-old mind. It’s not the alcohol swabs and insulin, the blood tests and injections, the highs and lows. It’s not that this is her everyday today and, until there’s a cure, her everyday in the future. It’s not the scary unknowns. It’s not, in fact, the diabetes at all.

No, for now, what’s weighing on her fragile little shoulders and bringing my daughter to frustrated tears is that she’s worried about being strong enough for us.

I exhale.

Oh, Sweetie. That’s nothing you have to worry about.

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My Own Little 4-H Hell

Today’s forecast is 32 degrees with a humidex of over 40 (for my American friends, that’s Really Freakin’ Hot Fahrenheit) and it’s been similar weather almost every day here for going on three weeks now.

Guess what else is hot and steamy lately?

Me.

No, I’m not getting my sexy on. I’m having hot flashes.

Welcome to the menopause years.

I was out with girlfriends the other night, and we were commiserating over the regular topics: kids, work, husbands, finances. Then I started venting about the 4-H hell I’ve found myself in lately (heat waves, humidity, hormones and hot flashes) expecting one of them to chime in at any moment.

Nothing.

Apparently I’m the only one of the group whose body has taken to spontaneously combusting.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I was the first girl in my class to wear a bra. The first to get her period. Why not the first for this?

But commiserating isn’t the same when there’s no “co” to my “misery.” It just feels like plain old complaining.

So if you need me,  I’ll be just over here, standing on top of the A/C vent, fanning myself with one hand and holding my hair off the back of my neck with the other, asking “Is it hot in here, or is it just me?”

 

 

Weighing In

In a few weeks, we’re heading down south and taking the kids on their very first trip to an all-inclusive Carribean resort.

Here are just a few of the things on my to-do list:

  • Force the kids to try on all of their summer clothes that I optimistically packed away in September, in complete denial of the fact that in the six months that have elapsed since then, they’re bound to have outgrown everything.
  • Go shopping for completely new summer wardrobes for both kids once I see that not one stitch of clothing I lovingly washed and folded and packed away still fits them.
  • Inventory and set aside each and every item we’ll be packing.
  • Defy the laws of physics by packing said items into two suitcases and four carry-ons.
  • Pray that the Canadian dollar rallies the day before I go to the Currency Exchange and not the day after.
  • Make all of the arrangements regarding missed school work, piano lessons and kung fu practices.
  • Water the plants, cancel the newspaper, take out the garbage, turn down the furnace, verify the insurance, pay the bills, return the library books, run the dishwasher and verb the noun of whatever else I can think of.
  • Lose 10 pounds.

Here’s the ridiculous thing: on every single to-do list that I’ve written for every single major life event in the past 25 years, that last bullet has been there.

It’s varied slightly over time, of course…

My wedding list would have been more along the lines of:

  • Order the flowers.
  • Taste-test wedding cakes.
  • Lose 5 pounds.

The list for my daughter’s first birthday party stipulated:

  • Order balloons.
  • Make sure the tablecloth, plates, cups, cutlery and napkins colour coordinate with said balloons and that all food being served, including the cake, not only colour-coordinate but adhere to the ladybug theme.
  • Lose 25 pounds.

And the list for the trip Luc and I took to Mexico for our 15th anniversary included:

  • Book the flights.
  • Write each of the kids a personalized letter for every night we’re gone so that they can open them and read them before they go to bed and know that Mommy and Papa still love them and haven’t abandoned them and will be back before they know it.
  • Lose 15 pounds.

So why, one might ask,  does it take a huge gathering of relatives or the prospect of putting on a bathing suit (or worse, both simultaneously) to put reaching my target weight back on my radar?

Why, one might ask, do I not make healthy eating and exercise a daily commitment so that I am ALWAYS within a respectable range and never have to diet, refrain, deny myself or unduly sweat in advance of yet another event?

Well, one might answer, there’s chocolate. And wine. And lattes. And lasagna. And let’s not forget garlic bread with cheese. And warm banana chocolate chip muffins straight out of the oven. And margaritas! I love me a salty margarita! Especially when it’s served at a swim-up bar!

And, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I hate exercise. Unless swimming up to a swim-up bar for a margarita counts as exercise. Then count me in for a work-out!

I’d love to say it doesn’t matter. That 5 or 25 or 15 or 10 or however many pounds won’t make or break a party or a vacation. It must matter, because it’s always there on every list. But it’s obviously not a priority, because it’s always “to-do” but never “done”.

I’ll have to think on that a little more when I’m sipping on a margarita at the swim-up bar in a few weeks’ time…

 

 

 

 

Koala Bears and Biopsies

Two summers ago at the San Diego Zoo, as we left the Elephant Odyssey and headed for the Outback, my cell phone rang.

It was my doctor’s office, and a chipper Nurse Erin asked, “Hi Jennifer, I was just wondering if you’ve had a chance to book your biopsy yet?”

Um, excuse me? What biopsy?

A concerned Luc dragged the puzzled kids off to see the koalas while I spent a frantic half hour making long distance phone calls back to Ottawa (never mind the data to look up phone numbers online, never mind the time difference, never mind the roaming charges) to find out what the hell was going on.

It’s amazing how an entire zoo can disappear in a second as your entire being tries to focus on what a succession of people on the other end of the line thousands of miles away are telling you. Suspicious spot. Biopsy ASAP. We’ll get you in two days after you get back. Enjoy the rest of your holiday and try not to worry.

Seems my annual breast MRI, which I’d had done the week before we left for California, showed a suspicious spot on my right breast that needed further investigation. And since I’m in the High-Risk Program, “further investigation” doesn’t mean further imaging, like say an ultrasound, as it would for most women, but an automatic MRI-guided biopsy. And soon.

Unfortunately the hospital had left the message on our home machine while I was off on our two-week family vacation to the Golden State. My doctor’s office got concerned when they didn’t receive notification of the biopsy date and decided to give me a shout on my cell, not realizing I had no idea I even needed one.

Hence the crisis by the koalas.

So what did I do, after I scribbled down the details, hung up the phone, dried my eyes, and joined Luc and the kids on the other side of the Outback?

I enjoyed the rest of my holiday and tried not to worry.

Being considered “high-risk” for developing breast cancer leads to some pretty contradictory thought processes:

  • I’m thankful that I’m screened regularly enough (annual mammograms since I was 30, annual MRIs for the past 10 years) that nothing cancerous should ever be in my breasts for very long without getting noticed. But I also hate annual mammograms and MRIs with a passion.
  • I’m relieved every time my tests come back clear. But then I wonder whether they might have missed something.
  • I’m devastated every time another family member is diagnosed (my mom, her sisters, my cousins…). But then again, considering the family history, it’s not really a surprise.

And when you’re called back for a suspicious spot, well, you gear yourself up as much as you possibly can for bad news, while every fibre of your body hopes for good.

Until bad news ends up being no news.

For at my MRI-guided biopsy two days after arrving home from California, the suspicious spot was nowhere to be found.

Which, I guess, is good news.

A huge relief, yes. But it’s also, in a weirdly contradictory way, a let-down. Obviously not in the sense that I wanted them to find something. But part of me also wanted to scream, “Why the f— do you put me through all of these tests, and all of this stress, and all of this waiting, and all of this worrying (because, let’s face it, I may have looked like I was enjoying my holiday and not worrying, but on the inside I had myself sliced up, chemoed and dead), just to tell me it’s nothing!?!”

I know why, of course. Because some day it might really be something.

But still.

I’ve got this on my mind because this morning was my annual MRI. And now I wait (in town, of course) for 5 or 6 days for the results. Hoping there’s nothing, preparing myself for something, and praying that if there is something, it ends up being nothing.

I wish I didn’t have to do this.

And I really would have liked to have seen the koalas.

 

 

Popping Antidepressants at Starbucks

Grandma used to carry a suitcase of medications with her when she came to visit. (Well, maybe not a suitcase, but it was definitely bigger than a make-up bag, though smaller than a breadbox I guess.)

“Well, now, it’s time to take my pills!” she’d announce before every meal, then go through her thrice daily ritual. First, she’d haul out the case and open it up on the kitchen table where everyone could see. Then she’d lay a Kleenex down and, bottle by bottle, count out her doses until she had a miniature pyramid of rainbow-coloured pills in varying shapes and sizes. All of which she would down in one shot with a small glass of orange juice before packing it all up again.

It became a running joke in our family, this “spectacle” as my Mom called it–usually accompanied by an eye roll–that Grandma put on, to the point that whenever one of us took a vitamin, an Advil, or an antibiotic, we’d announce to the rest of the family in a crotchety old person voice, “Well, now, it’s time to take my pills!”

For the record: Sorry, Grandma.

In my defence, it was hard to take her or her ailments seriously. By the time I reached adulthood, she’d been “dying” for decades of one disease or another and had had so many close calls that it got to the point that whenever Dad called to say, “Grandma’s in the hospital again,” my brother and I would casually reply, “That’s too bad. Let us know when she’s out.” Callous, I know. But because she was a tough bird (as well as a bit of a drama queen) and always pulled through, it was easier to brush off a lot of her incidents as exaggerated, overdone or even imagined than to take each one seriously and to heart.

Plus, from time to time she’d throw in a comment along the lines of “What a nice Christmas this has been. Too bad I won’t be around to enjoy it again next year,” which didn’t endear her to anyone, because she always was.

Until she wasn’t.

I’m 45 now, closing in quickly on the age Grandma would have been when I was a child, laughing, along with my brother, behind her back at her pill-taking ritual. And now here I am, with my own little arsenal of meds.

It started simply enough: low iron, borderline anemia after years of heavy periods, two babies, and not a huge appetite for either red meat or spinach. So, OK, I could take an iron supplement every day.

Then came the years of fatigue (unusual since my iron was at least hovering within the normal range by then) accompanied by weight gain, hair loss and joint pain. Finally my doctor put the pieces of the puzzle together and tested my thyroid. Yep. Hypothyroidism. Nothing a little pill in the morning can’t take care of.

After awhile, my medical charts started showing gradual increases year after year in my blood pressure. Not unexpected considering the genes on my Dad’s side and my general stress levels. Better add a blood pressure pill to the mix.

Oh yes, and that little trip to emergency last year? For the crushing chest pain and crisis-level spike in said blood pressure? Not a heart attack, thank god, but gastroesophageal reflux disease, which it seems I’d been suffering from for years (apparently it is NOT normal to get food stuck in your throat and have to throw it up on a regular basis). Again, there’s a pill for that.

And now the latest. Migraines. I remember my first one at 10 years old, and not a month has gone by in the decades since (except, blessedly, when I was pregnant) that I haven’t had at least one. But now they’re different. More frequent. Longer lasting. With aura, which is new. Plus I’m finding I’m having more generally headachey days in a month now than not. Hence the trip to the neurologist last week.

Her advice? Wait out menopause and see what happens (although from the looks of things already, my headaches are only going to get worse) or start on a daily preventative pill to take me through to the other side of The Change.

The catch? It’s actually an antidepressant. After years of being prescribed to treat depression, they discovered that this family of meds has the happy side effect of reducing migraines.

And although I’ve been willing to pop any pill my doctors have suggested for my various issues over the years, antidepressants scare me. Because I’m not (insofar as I’ve ever been prepared to admit) depressed. But more so because of the potential side effects (the list is long and, well, depressing).

But as my best friend pointed out (not completely ironically) as we talked about it at Starbucks the other night, maybe for me this tiny tablet would not only cure my migraines, but have the happy side effect of making me…happier.

At which point I exclaimed, “Oh, crap, it’s time to take my pill!” pulled my pill bottle out of my purse and downed the little blue ball of potential with a gulp of my decaf grande latte.

Again, for the record: Sorry, Grandma.