Parenting is a Journey
An Adventure of Discovery Not Only of our Children But of Ourselves as Well
I was recently diagnosed with a condition that has a significant impact on me. It is not life-threatening, but it is annoying to have to pay such close attention to my health. This is the latest in a series of concerns that reminds me that it’s tough to get sick when you’re a single parent.
Several years ago, there was a particularly virulent strain of flu infecting scores of people, including my son Paul. He missed a week of school as he suffered through aches, chills and fever. One morning as I was heading out the door to take his siblings to school, Paul came down the stairs speaking gibberish. He had become dehydrated and was hallucinating. It was pretty frightening. I didn’t want the younger kids to be late, but I also did not want to leave Paul alone. Fortunately, my neighbor was still home and came in to watch Paul while I drove the others two miles down the road to school. I was very happy that I did not succumb to the flu that season. In fact, I remember telling myself, “I cannot get sick.”
Don’t Get Sick
We are a reasonably healthy family. During their growing-up years, other than annual checkups, our visits to the doctor were pretty rare. There were occasional trips to the emergency room for stitches, sprained ankles and twisted wrists. Jake got a concussion playing lacrosse that kept him in a dark, stimulus-free room for seven days.
Aside from my annual visits to the gynecologist, my medical (and dental – oops) care was minimal. And those annual visits may not have been so annual. Every few years I would schedule a physical but, more often than not, cancel it or give the appointment to one of the children. A colleague chastised me for this lack of self-care. I don’t like getting scolded, so I finally kept one of those appointments.
I remember exactly where I was when the nurse called with my test results — in rush-hour traffic. She told me I had a lot of calcium in my blood. I thought that was a good thing. Shouldn’t we all have a lot of calcium? Not in our blood. It was an indication of parathyroid disease. I had never heard of parathyroid disease, so I asked Jake, who was riding along with me, to look it up on his phone as I continued to drive.
Once Is Not Enough
Parathyroid disease is resolved by removing a portion of the impacted gland. My surgery was on Valentine’s Day that year. While the parathyroid lives close to the thyroid, it is actually unrelated. However, during the operation, my doctor biopsied some growths he had previously observed in my thyroid and discovered that I had cancer.
Thyroid cancer moves slowly, and my doctor promised me my particular type would not kill me. Six months after the first operation, I had another to remove my thyroid and almost all of my parathyroid (the disease had not corrected itself with the first surgery).
I shared very few details with my children. I did not want them to worry. My daughter, who thrives on drama, did get a little carried away in her concern for me though.
I was fortunate that the cancer I had did not require radiation or chemotherapy. Life could return to normal quickly for us. But these surgeries — and one more unrelated one I had during the prior year — revealed to my family that Mom was vulnerable, and this mom does not like being vulnerable.
Taking Care of Mom
The child who knows this best is Jake, my youngest. Before we moved to San Francisco, Jake took annual trips from Boston to the Bay area to visit his oldest brother. They share a summer birthday. The year he turned 14, I dropped him at the airport and went home to do a thorough housecleaning. Unfortunately, two hours in, I slipped on the wet bathroom floor, dislocating my knee and hitting my head on the side of the bathtub. I ended up in the emergency room, where I got 12 stitches and a new pair of crutches.
Jake felt terrible that he was not there to help me. He is here now, and the only one of the kids I have told about my new diagnosis. While we don’t talk about it much, and he does not appear to be overly concerned, almost every day he shares a link to information he has found about my condition. And he makes sure I take care of myself. I worry that I am burdening my youngest because he is the one who is geographically closest; but I should overcome my reluctance to tell the others. Just as I was their primary caregiver when they were children, they are now mine.
Susan Solomon Yem is singleminded about raising her five children to adulthood. She’d like to hear your stories about single parenting. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org