Sunday, March 18, 2007

Family Matters: In Good Times and Bad

Inspired by the This I Believe site, I’ve decided this week to reflect upon a core belief of mine that has helped to influence the focus of my blog. Family has always been an essential part of who I am, and my parents and sister are undoubtedly the most important people in my life. I lean on them for support, guidance, and advice. My mom always emphasized the meaning of family by telling my sister and I to “be good to each other and stay close because in the end, when your dad and I are gone, your sister is the only family you’ll really have.” Families share memories, successes, fears, laughter, and tears, and it is this commonality that helps families relate to each other and remain close. Family members give each other strength and support for the happy, joyful times, and of course, for the difficult struggles that inevitably occur in life.

Nine years ago my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It was unfortunately not caught early on, and thus considered Stage 3, which means that the cancer has spread outside the ovaries, outside the pelvis, and into the abdominal cavity. She underwent surgery and chemotherapy for about seven months. About four years later, in 2002, the cancer recurred on her diaphragm. She once again had surgery and chemotherapy for almost a year and a half. During this time, I naturally experienced overwhelming feelings of anguish, fear, helplessness, and resentment. I resented how everyone seemed to live so carefree, taking such simple things for granted, such as their health. While my friends were extremely supportive to the best of their ability, both they and I knew that, with no fault of their own, it was impossible for them to completely understand. I was envious of them and their families, even despite other marital or family issues they might have had, because they had their health, something that matters more than anything; more than money, more than fame, more than all the little things in the world. In reality, there are few things worse than not having your health.

Throughout this time I came to realize how important and necessary one’s support system can be. Having my friends and family around to care for me, make me strong, and keep me optimistic was a blessing. My family and friends are what got me through this terrible tribulation, and I know I can depend on them. They stood by me, offered support and encouragement, and prevented me from losing hope. This episode in my life has allowed me to develop an understanding of the important things in life. Through my experience, I have established a more grounded outlook on what truly matters to me, and that includes my family and our health. Both are of remarkable value to me.

I don’t think anyone will ever understand or know why some have the unfortunate task of dealing with cancer. I probably will always wonder, “why us?” But I do know that this incident has given me the opportunity to learn to enjoy every day, cherish my family and friends, take advantage of the peaceful times, and never take anything for granted. My mom is doing well, and for this I could not be more thankful. Nothing is of greater worth than the bond shared between family members and the strength and hope they can bring to the table in times of fear and distress, specifically over an illness. “When dealing with illness, you may find strengths you never thought you had. And while illness may close the doors to some parts of your life, it may open others,” states a Clinical Center patient from the Patient Information Publications of the National Institutes of Health. I believe it is not necessarily what happens to you that truly matters, because everyone faces adversity in life, but rather how you decide to confront and take control of the challenge. The quote by Jawaharlal Nehru supports my belief in stating, “Life is like a game of cards. The hand that is dealt you represents determinism; the way you play it is free will.” With my family by my side, this unpleasant event has helped to shape my beliefs and values, influence my outlook on life, and provide the strength I need to tackle and cope with new hardships that may await me in the future. This experience and the lessons I’ve learned from it have changed my thinking about family, health, and life in general, teaching me first-hand the value of each. It may or may not have sparked my interest in a health career specifically, but it certainly got me thinking about health overall. “Mind and Body,” the title of my blog, suggests the importance of both mental health, which may even include the optimism needed in times of distress, as well as physical health. Having a family member’s health so severely jeopardized and vulnerable has enabled me to find interest in this relevant and significant topic. I look forward to continuing my studies in health, as I have become quite invested in this field.

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