Anyone who knows me will say beyond a shadow of a doubt, I am a control freak. When I am working with a contractor on a home project or talking to my sons’ teachers at school, I always caution them; “I am a Type A+++. Total control freak.” At least I admit it… A planner, a list maker, a rule follower, a true Virgo in every sense of the word…whatever you want to call it, I am in control at all times. I give excellent advice, and I expect everyone to follow it to the letter. Anything less is unacceptable. Except for my Penn State college years (which stretched waaay too far into my 20’s & early 30’s before kids) that were spent much of the time in a drunken haze, I’ve been in control. And even then, I CHOSE to be out of control. I controlled my out of controlness…
So you can imagine how I felt when Emmett was diagnosed. My first question was, “What did I do wrong that my child would have to suffer like this?” Was it something I ate? Drank? Was exposed to? The doctors had the same response: It was nothing you did, it just happened. Bad genes. REALLY hard to accept even to this day, 10 years later. I watch pregnant women smoking, drinking, eating junk food but yet having completely healthy kids. I did everything right, took all of my vitamins, exercised, and yet my child was born with a totally debilitating chromosome disorder. I was 35 years old. I didn’t get it at all. Everything I did to control the situation didn’t matter. It is what it is.
A person should only have to go through that type of inexplicable agony once in a lifetime. Well, put your seatbelt on and hang onto your hat… spoiler alert: it happened again. When I woke up from my colonoscopy on September 11th, 2014 and the GI doc said the words that a person NEVER wants to hear: “It is most likely cancer.” Of course this control freak’s response was, “Cancer? You’re telling me I have cancer? How could that be? I do everything right.” I always ate pretty healthy and lived an active lifestyle since I am a lifelong athlete. But my husband and I even cranked if up a notch in the 8 years since Emmett’s diagnosis. Our goal was to be as fit and strong as we could be to raise our 2 boys – namely Emmett, since he needs 24 hour care. Wait for it…the doctors had the same response again: It was nothing you did, it just happened. Bad genes. They even added in a new one for an extra added bonus: Bad luck. Thanks guys. I appreciate it. No risk factors, no family history, signs and symptoms that my PCP thought were IBS or internal hemorrhoids revealed thee worst possible scenario and most unexpected diagnosis: Stage IV colorectal cancer.
Why? Why did all of this occur? ESPECIALLY since I did all of these wonderful things to try and live a good, clean life. I am a person of great faith (a God person), so I did a lot of soul searching. What did I do wrong in my life to deserve all of this? I really always thought of myself as a pretty decent person. I helped old ladies cross the street. I held doors open for people. I (more or less) spoke kindly of everyone and didn’t make fun of anyone, even when other kids kid. People asked me, “Are you mad at God?” I would always say, “No. I am mad at myself for whatever I did wrong.” But what was bothering this control freak was that I couldn’t figure out exactly what it was that I DID wrong – and that is baffling. And what’s worse is that my illness that I apparently had nothing to do with not only affects me, but my parents, my husband, my other son, my friends, my employer, the rest of my family, etc. All of these other people are burdened. THAT’S the real bummer and guilt trip for me; that my illness drags down so many other folks, and that I can’t fully care for my sweet, beautiful angelic son, who needs his mother more than anything.
It’s really a sick, cruel joke. I picture something that looks like Jabba the Hutt in the shape of a big cancer tumor just shaking its belly and laughing at me, like “Ha ha, Stacy. Your life SUCKS. I took it all away from you. Your healthy life. Your healthy child. Everything sucks. Sit around and cry! Fold! Give up!”
But alas, friends – the answer is NO!!! This is when our hero rises like a phoenix! In addition to being a control freak, I am also the most determined person I know. I love a challenge. And I’ll never forget what my 2 time cancer-surviving friend and mentor told me when I was diagnosed, “This is where the stubborn Pollock kicks in!” (she is also 100% Polish and today is her birthday! Cheers!) I will NOT BE DEFEATED!
I have a lot of people now reaching out to me who are battling cancer. I am blessed and lucky to be doing really well (currently no evidence of disease). They all ask me, “What did you do to be winning right now? I want to do what you did. Give me your playbook.” And this is what I tell them, “Control the things that you can control: diet, exercise, stress level, attitude. Beyond that, trust your gut instinct, your doctors, and God (or the universe for my non-God friends).” Swapping control for trust has been my biggest turning point.
Am I still a control freak? Yes. Do I control everything like I once thought? No. Do I still question the whole thing? Yes. But am I ok with answers like, “It just happened?” Weeeelll….yes and no. I’d say I am doing a lot better than I was 10 years ago. The fact is that life in general “just happens.” The good, the bad, and the ugly. But live in the moment when it happens and control HOW YOU REACT TO IT. That’s the difference.