My husband and I usually host Thanksgiving. The cast is ever changing, because the babies keep coming and you never know who will be in town. After a Turkey Trot with friends, we share a feast and stories about gratitude.
This year, 2014, is going to be one hell of a celebration.
For 20 years I’ve been a newspaper woman. Like most careers, it can be a challenging job. But I loved it. I LOVED it. I self-identified as a newspaper journalist, and I coped with the industry’s challenges by the only things I could control: Eating healthy and exercising often. I joke that I run away from stress, but it actually works!
The universe dealt my family a blow I couldn’t run away from in May. I was there, holding my mother’s hand, when she was diagnosed with cancer. It was a late stage cancer, and aggressive. My mother’s cancer came to define me in 2014, just as my career had for the last two decades. Grocery shopping: Milk, eggs, my mom has cancer. Running a half marathon: Breathe, just three more miles, my mom has cancer.
At the same time, my challenging job started to change in structural ways. It was a steady drip of changes that had me coming home deflated instead of elated, or waking up with dread instead of excitement for the workday ahead. My kids saw me as I worked at my kitchen counter more, answered emails on Sunday mornings. I didn’t realize they saw me doing it with less joy.
I had explained to them that my mother was sick: She had lymphoma. We all were going to fight it with love, and lots and lots of medicine. I chose the medical term, because cancer just is too vast. We visited with her frequently. First in the hospital for months, then blessedly at home. She was an amazingly positive fighter.
After her hair fell out from chemotherapy, my 9-year-old approached me. “What’s wrong mom?” Oh I have something on my mind, I said. “Grammy has cancer. You’re thinking about grammy, and you’re worried about your job.”
HOLD UP. My job. What does my job have to do with anything?
Well, a lot as it turns out. My job was something I could control. I couldn’t heal my mother; I could quit my job.
But my mother was fighting cancer, and my mother was winning. Simply quitting a job didn’t seem adequate in light of that: It was time to go big. I reached out to a nonprofit I’ve admired for many years, pursued my dream of working with them, and actually got hired. I’m going to work directly with my community to improve its overall health and well-being.
My mother’s cancer is in remission. She’s done with chemo, she’s just finished radiation. She looks more beautiful than ever. Watching her kick cancer has been an amazing experience for my family. Leaving my first career behind has filled me with the very joy I used to derive from it. My kids have a more present, pleasant mother. Do they know? You bet they do. On their calendar of activities, my daughter secretly scrawls: “Congrats on the job mom I am so happy for you.”
This month as we celebrate Thanksgiving, I know for the first time what it is to be grateful for health because my mother is still here. I’ve never been more grateful for anything in my life. The bonus thanks: Her journey and her fight inspired me to become a better mother to my own children.
Communications professional Erika lives in Boulder County and is a mother of two, a runner, a gardener and a passionate home cook. Follow her on Twitter: @stutzmane.