** Disclaimer this was written in July **
This post was supposed to be all about riding bikes in France during the Tour de France this past July as my mother and I celebrated our 40th & 70th birthdays together this fall.
Jon was our travel agent and tour guide. He had flights, accommodations and routes all planned. We were going to find the Tour de France as it came through the area of Pau in the Pyrenees and casually intersect it a few times as we spent much quieter miles together in the hillsides and foothills.
But then cancer reared its ugly head, again, and the trip got cancelled. Travel insurance reimbursed our flights, the rules of Air BnB allowed for full refunds and routes would simply be saved for another trip. We are disappointed but accepting of this reality and trying not to dwell.
About 9 years ago, my mom was diagnosed with bladder cancer. As an extremely healthy and active 60 year old, at the time, we were all surprised. We then learned that bladder cancer is linked closely to smoking and, truth be told, my mother grew up in the 50’s & 60’s when smoking was allowable. She quit when she was 40 and has never looked back, only forward towards, a healthy active life.
The cancer has always been annoying for her to deal with, but we knew it would always be treatable. Over the past 9 years she had several chunks of her bladder removed, radiation and chemo, which lead to oxygen treatment for the damage associated with radiation. She was cancer free for a couple of years. The cancer itself didn’t bother her, it never does, but the treatments were taking a toll. She was going under anesthesia for scopes and resections more than anyone in their 60’s should. The months of chemo and radiation zapped her of some base line energy which she accepted with her head held high in a typical approach only my mother would take, not complaining and moving on. We always knew there was a chance that this diagnosis could lead to my mother losing her bladder, but after the aggressive “bladder salvaging” radiation and diagnosis of cancer free, we felt confident in her future.
And then March of 2017 hit and the cancer returned. This time her “usual” cancer was coupled with a second type that would, if left untreated, spread like toxic wallpaper along her bladder and other organs. The quick decision was made by her family and her doctors to have a cystectomy, bladder removal, which came with a radical hysterectomy.
Surgery was scheduled for June 19th. Plans for France were cancelled, calendars were wiped clean and, coincidentally, van life for Jon and I ended on June 8th. With very little in my immediate plans, I packed my bag for a 10 day trip to Boston to help Mum during her surgery and see her get home safely with my dad before I returned to Colorado. My parents were obsessed with me bringing my bike, going to a local personal training studio, finding group rides, having dinner and drinks with friends, visiting friends in nearby states. They were petrified that I would be bored. I met their enthusiasm with a lot of “we will see”. Being in the medical field I knew what our days were going to look like. They would be the slowest fastest days with very little time to be bored and longing for a bike ride. However, my optimistic, yet slightly delusional, parents had no idea what they were in for. Major abdominal surgery is not a quick road.
So, Mum had surgery and came home 7 days later with a urostomy (a bag for urine). Thirty-six hours after returning home, she was readmitted with a small bowel obstruction, UTI and blood infection. We had all been educated on the 30% readmission rate for one or all of the complications above, but were convinced it wouldn’t be us. Indeed it was us and Mum landed back in the hospital for 8 days.
As I write this I am on the plane back to CO after being away for a month. The departure from my family mere hours ago stung. My mom and I cried and cried hard while my sister and dad looked on. I’ve been staring at my mom and riding an intense roller coaster, as her primary caregiver, for 30 powerful and exhausting days. I can read her in a way that I have never been able to before. My wish as I transition care to my dad and sister is that they simply watch her, look at her, get to know her needs. Be patient and kind with her and encourage her to treat herself with the same patience and kindness. I know they will do all these things, but it’s still hard. *
Everyone has told me that I’m the best daughter to be so dedicated to my Mum the way have I have been and the truth is that it feels good. It feels right and for so many reasons. I love my life. I’m a happy person with good values and opportunities, thanks to my parents. Also, when my brother fell out of a tree and sustained a traumatic brain injury almost 13 years ago, they allowed and encouraged me to move to Colorado. They didn’t ask me to stick around and put my entire life on hold because my brother made a poor choice to a climb a tree he had no business climbing. They told me to go and live my life because there might be a time I needed to come back. Well, this was one of those times. Giving back just a fraction of the love and support they have given me for a lifetime quite frankly feels good.
So, the Tour de 40/70 is on hold and we will celebrate life, health, family and bikes another year, but it has left me with an itch to commemorate our milestones in some way. Life is a gift, health is a gift, time is a gift and I want to honor that. I want to save any cycling related significant mileage or something to do with my Mum, so my goal is a little bit more focused on me.
As many people have caught on, I’m addicted to Pure Barre. As I land back in Boulder, the Pure Barre studio will be my second home. I’m a community ambassador for Pure Barre Boulder and want to be involved in the studio as much as I can. Pure Barre is my yoga, it is my meditation, it is my focus, it is necessary. Not only does it physically make me a stronger runner & cyclist, but the intense focus to the task at hand that comes with each class blocks out the noise of regular life and I leave feeling clear, organized, focused and calm.
Originally I thought about trying to do 40 classes in the 70 days leading up to my 40th, but realized that sort of count down to the milestone carried with it the wrong intention. As if I were counting down to a doom or something. Rather, I’d like to celebrate turning 40 by welcoming the new decade, as well as the remaineder of 2016, with 40 classes in 70 days starting on my birthday in October. I am not one to broadcast anything involving my birthday so bear with me as I quiver when I hit publish (pplllease don’t make a big deal about it xoxo).
How in the world is this piece about my mom beating cancer, postponing a cycling trip to France, a couple of birthdays and going to group fitness all related? I don’t know, it just is. I want something symbolic to commemorate our birthdays, I want something to focus on as my mom climbs back to her life and her fitness, I want something that’s going to be challenging in a new way to me. Running and riding long distances is always welcomed, but it’s nothing new. Forty classes in 70 days is a huge commitment and will not be achieved with ease or comfort. It means prioritizing my time and my focus to reach my goals. Right now, as my family is coming out of the post surgical fog and as Jon and I are beginning a new chapter after our first phase of van life, this goal, and everything that Pure Barre represents, feels right. After all, I’m stronger than I think I am, right? !
* As expected my dad and sister did great! Mum ended up back in the hospitals two more times this summer but it wasn’t because no one was looking. Everyone was paying attention and knew when things weren’t right. It could have been worse.