There is a silly little game I sometimes play that I call: What Was My Mum Was Doing At My Age? My mum was born in 1939, so at my current age of 56, that would mean that my mum was the same age in 1995. That was the year my mum moved 340 km from Kingston, Ontario to Ancaster, Ontario to be closer to the rest of the family. My two sisters and I lived very near to this small town, so it seemed a great choice. The very next year my husband and I moved to Calgary, Alberta. A total coincidence, I assure you.
My mum and step-dad liked to travel, so by moving to Ancaster, they were nearer to both the Toronto airport, as well as the Hamilton airport. In addition, the Buffalo International airport was less than a two-hour drive away. Moving to the Greater Toronto Area just made it easier for them to enjoy their retirement.
At 56 my mum was fat and unfit. That did not make her horrible, it just made her fat and unfit. She was still able to be extremely helpful to my sister Wendy by being a large part of her three grandkids lives. She made herself available to both sisters and would often fly or drive to help with just about anything they needed. She did all the fun things that grandmothers apparently do with their grandkids. Played with them, baked with them, indulged them, took them places. Mum even took my sister Wendy’s son to England for a fabulous vacation. My mum was an involved and caring grandmother by any standard you would use. Much, much better than me. I have no interest in doing any of the typical grandmotherly things. I’m a complete and utter failure in that department.
What mum could not do was go hiking, climbing, running, biking or skiing. All things I do at my 56. At her 56, her lack of fitness and health had come home to roost.
After my mum’s death in 2015, I was fortunate to be able to talk at length with her physician. Dr. M was able to give me a deep dive into her health history, and my sisters and I are grateful for this information. I found out all sorts of troubling medical issues that she had decided not to discuss with my sisters and me. This was the doctor she found after moving to Ancaster, so it was the only doctor, other than specialists, that she had from the time of her move to the area, until her death. I had gone in to talk to her doctor because all three of us wanted a better understanding of what we actually DID know about her health, which was her aortic stenosis and her kidney issues. She had kidney failure in 2000, so we wanted to know if it was familial. We could all then take this information to our own doctors enabling them to follow any issues that could affect our wellness. My mother was always very vague about her diagnosis and ongoing health. We could never get any proper answers and we could not get those answers from her doctors, while my mum was still living, because of strict privacy laws.
Imagine my shock when I found out that she had struggled with the trifecta of diabetes type 2, the typical accompanying high blood pressure, and the not so surprising high cholesterol. Not being a doctor, I had no idea that these medical problems were all tied in together. When you have aortic stenosis, those three health problems are highly likely. It was a very enlightening hour and I will be forever grateful to my mum’s doctor for two things. One: Speaking to me candidly about my mother’s health and how my mum failed to follow much of Dr. M’s medical advice concerning how she could strengthen her physical, as well as emotional, condition, and two: agreeing to be my doctor. I had struggled for over a year trying to find a doctor that was taking on new patients. With Canada’s socialized medicine, it is getting increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to get a doctor. I know many people that just go to a walk-in clinic and take whoever is available, with fingers and toes crossed that the doctor is competent and not falling asleep with exhaustion. In another post you can read here I discuss how Dr. M saved my life by agreeing to be my doctor. She sent me to get a colonoscopy which revealed my cancer.
Not every positive health and fitness choice is an inoculation against illness and disease. I understand that better than most after being diagnosed with recto-sigmoid cancer, despite doing so many things to ensure my health and wellness. Luckily because I did make those healthy choices, I was able to tackle cancer and my recovery in a way that someone who wasn’t fit and healthy, to begin with, could not have. My mum, on the other hand, did not really stand a chance. It wasn’t just her physicality either. It was her emotional and mental health that suffered as well. She had the mindset of a sick person. I’ll never forget the day my sister Wendy suggested she get a small dog for companionship so that she could focus on something other than her “sickness”, as she referred to it. My mother had always enjoyed the company of a pet. Usually two cats and a dog all at one time. Mum looked at Wendy and informed her that she could not have a dog because “she was sick.” When she uttered those words she said them in a little girls voice.
You are what you think you are. I’m not saying my mother wasn’t sick. She clearly was, but why let that define you for fifteen years? I’d think that was an awful way to live. We told her that we’d gladly help look after the dog should she have to go to the hospital for any extended length of time, but she would not hear any of it. She had made up her mind. She was sick, and that was that. That’s how she spent her last fifteen years. Obviously, there were still plenty of good times and shared experiences, but it was always overshadowed by my mums thought processes. There was one afternoon mum, Wendy and I were all shopping at Target in Buffalo. We were having a great time browsing and just walking around. My mum found it necessary to remind both Wendy and I that it might be very soon that she could no longer do this with us. It was an immediate splash of cold water on the happy moment. Depending on what you consider very soon, it was another ten years before she passed. Ten years that could have been spent with much more happiness, I believe, had she made more time for physiotherapy and for counseling.
Deciding not to make good choices puts you at an extreme disadvantage when it comes to managing your health as you age. More importantly, it can isolate you. What is the point of living a long life if the last part of it is spent steeped in emotional, mental, and physical pain? All largely because of ignored, and avoidable, collateral health issues. My mother spent an enormous time in and out of the hospital from 2000 until her death in 2015. I have every intention of avoiding that by doing everything I can, within my control, to age strong.
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