A friend told me a while ago that my childhood experiences probably gave me the tooIs to deal with cancer. I have been giving her comment a lot of thought lately. Looking back, I can say my life journey (so far) as been one hell of a ride. I have no regrets.
There have been points in my life where I seemed to always be swimming against the tide. I rarely followed rules and still don’t.
My mother was an addict. Her drug of choice was codeine. Back in the 60s doctors wrote prescriptions (or maybe it was just our family doctor) anytime a patient asked for them. My mom ate codeine pills like they were candy and washed them down with good old-fashioned whisky. When I turned ten, she wanted me to join “the party.” I never liked the taste of alcohol so I pretended to go along, to keep from getting a beating. Sometimes I still got a beating though. It depended on what mood my mother was in.
My dad worked a lot. He was pretty much an absent parent. I don’t blame him. He was the brunt of my mother’s anger when he was home. My dad was in the Air Force when he met my mom while he was stationed in Germany. My mom had lived through World War II. She grew up poor and her mother was not the best mom either. When my mom met my dad she saw her “ticket” out of Germany and a chance to live in America, where everyone was “rich and glamorous.”
After a couple of years living in the States, reality set in. My dad was not rich and she was saddled with a two-year old daughter. My mother was pissed. This was not the life she wanted, but in the 50s, women in America stayed at home and lived off their husbands paycheck.
Two months shy of my eighteenth birthday, I had a chance to get away from my abusive home-life and hit the road in a compact car, with two boys and set out for North Carolina. I slept in a sleeping bag outside closed businesses at night and looking back, I probably looked like bonafide Hippie. I had no life skills and was pretty naïve, but I learned to be street smart pretty quickly. For the next few years I dated abusive men, before settling down and marrying a drunk. I believed I could change him. Don’t we all?
We had a son and that is when I changed. I would not allow my child to grow up in the same environment I did. The cycle ended with me. I became independent. I left my husband. My world revolved around my son. A few years later my dad had a serious heart attack and I moved back home to California, to be close to him.
I was working at a women’s clothing store, when one day I saw an ad for a delivery person, in the local newspaper. It was the early 80s and women didn’t take delivery jobs, especially delivering “auto parts.” I got the job and was hired because I was the only person who brought a resume to the interview. I had zero experience delivering stuff and knew less about cars.
My manager at the clothing store thought I was crazy to take such a “menial” job and it was certainly not lady-like. She gave me all kinds of grief over my decision, but I was about to double my pay, get health insurance for me and my son and become a Teamster. I was going to deliver auto parts to local repair shops for a dealership.
Learning my job was easy. Working with the male employees was another story. Some resented the fact that I was doing a job what “rightfully” belonged to a man who needed to support his family. “What’s wrong with you?” they would ask. Couldn’t I find a man to take care of me?
Sexual harassment on the job was a common occurrence in the 80s. I experienced plenty of it back east and working in a male dominated auto industry was no exception. The company’s break room walls were lined with centerfold pictures. Penthouse and Playboy. If I wanted to buy a drink from the soda machine, I had to push the “tits”, “ass” or “bush” buttons. One day I brought in a centerfold picture of a naked male and taped it to the break room wall; all hell broke loose! The guys were “creeped out.” and it was immediately removed. So I complained about the double standard and I became the company “bitch.” The pictures stayed.
Mind you, my mother called me lots more creative names so I learned to tune those guys out. I was also gone most of the day, delivering auto parts. I rarely got help loading my small Toyota truck, except with the heavy auto engines. If I was going to do a man’s job then I would have to do it alone.
I think working in that type of environment made me stronger not just physically but emotionally. It taught me to never give up or give in.
Then I remarried, my dad died soon after and I found myself in “crisis.” I went to group counseling and read self-help books. I started college. I wanted to learn more about the world, and soon everything I thought I believed in was challenged. I became what Rush Limbaugh likes to call a “Feminazi.” My new husband was overwhelmed by the “new me” and decided it was better if we parted ways.
I continued my education and new-found activism. I participated in and organized marches against war. I fought to save the planet, the whales and whatever else needed saving. I became the man I always wanted to marry (just kidding). I was happy with my independence though. I would never be a victim again.
Then cancer smacked me in the butt. I had a new husband. My son was grown. They became my support system. I owe them a great deal for helping me. I don’t know if I would have had the same successful outcome without them, but I do know I was not going down without a fight.
So my friend is probably right. Not only did my childhood prepare me for the fight against cancer but all my life experiences laid down the ground work.
I am not alone. I met plenty of others who had at times a “rocky” period in their lives, and it is those persons who seem to do the best. Not all of them survive but they never give up trying. They keep showing up and wasn’t it Woody Allen who said, “the key to success is to keep showing up?”
Be well and keep showing up!