Why I’m Here

When I was in high school, the office secretary was the nicest lady you would have ever met. Marilyn was a quiet woman, but you could tell she loved her job. I personally would not want to work with high schoolers every day, but she loved interacting with all of us.

During the summer before my sophomore year, I met Jeff. I didn’t realize it until later, but he was one of Marilyn’s seven children. As we began dating and my relationship with him grew, so did mine with Marilyn. Over the years, I got to know her really well. She was the greatest lady. Her husband was definitely the leader of the two, but Marilyn was the strong, silent type. Many of the qualities I found charming in Jeff were the ones he shared with his mama.

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Marilyn was also a great listener. She may not have been the one in charge in her family, but she was the one who held everyone together. Having raised seven children, she had more talent than I will ever have when it comes to many things, most admirably, patience.

Jeff finished up finals on a Friday in May 2009, and as soon as his last test was turned in, he got a voicemail from one of his older sisters, telling him to call his dad. His dad told him that on Wednesday he had taken Marilyn to the doctor because she had been confused lately. That Friday, his parents went to meet with a doctor and figure out what was really going on.

Jeff called me that night and told me that his mom had a golf ball sized, stage 4 glioblastoma multiforme—a tumor on her brain. Without treatment, she had three months to three years to live; with treatment, it wasn’t much different. Just like that, life was turned upside down.

Over the course of the next few months, Marilyn completed chemo and radiation treatment. Late in the summer, on the day of her last radiation treatment, almost the entire family went to Mayo Clinic and watched her ring the bell, a patient tradition. It was one of the greatest moments of her battle.

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Marilyn had her fair share of set backs during her battle, but there were good moments, too. There were times where I was certain she was going to beat the cancer. I couldn’t imagine her not in my life…so she had to get better. After every good scan, though there were few, it gave us all so much hope.

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In February, Marilyn suffered from one of many seizures. However, this one was different because it landed her in the hospital, and nothing really got back to normal after that – even though normal had been different since May. From February to May Marilyn was moved from hospital to hospital, sometimes in the ICU, sometimes in neurology or oncology. At this point, it was obvious that it wasn’t good. During this time there were too many this-is-it calls to count. Jeff and I made numerous trips to the hospital, as did everyone else, thinking this would be the last time. But Marilyn was going to do this on her terms, and she held on.

Eventually she came home and was put on hospice care, which is I think what she wanted. Who’d want to be cooped up in a hospital for months? At home, she was set up in the sun room, and family surrounded her constantly.

Unfortunately, about all Marilyn could do was eat and breath. It was so painful to watch this woman who I cared so much about literally sit, unresponsive, in a chair all day. It tore me a part – and she wasn’t even my own mom. Mostly Marilyn slept, but sometimes she would open her eyes. She couldn’t move. She was bloated and bald from the chemo and radiation, though they had stopped relying on it months earlier.

After a long battle, Marilyn died on June 25, 2010. But she didn’t stop inspiring any one.

Marilyn was fine one day and dying the next, with no answer as to why. I realized that there are so many things in life that you cannot control—and that’s OK, you aren’t supposed to. Marilyn’s disease reminded me that life is short–too short, most times–and I have no excuse to not live it to the fullest each and every day.

Marilyn was the reason I started my first blog, The Eating Effort. Maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle is something I have felt strongly about ever since her death because it’s something about my own health that I can control. I realized that my life could be taken away from me at any time, so I decided to start treating it with more respect.

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However, I’ve since realized that there is so much more to it than that. Life is for living and enjoying and savoring and celebrating. Why not talk about a little bit of everything instead of just a handful of topics? So, The Eating Effort became Maddie’s Memos. Healthy living is still important, but it’s just a part of a huge puzzle!

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