About being aware

Many will say October is just a short time to Halloween or Thanksgiving or Christmas, but October is more than a stepping stone to those holidays. It is a month dedicated to raising awareness for breast cancer and domestic violence. For most these are two very separate causes, but for me they are more closely related than I care to remember. Oct. 1, 1996, is the date my mother took her own life. She believed she had no other options.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer early in 1995. She told me that she had skipped her mammogram the previous year due to my own battle with thyroid/parathyroid cancer. Her lump was small and was in stage two so she chose a radical mastectomy and several months of chemotherapy. She took the opportunity to try on different hairstyles and colors with a variety of wigs when she lost her hair. I remember her saying that she got this really bad headache one day and went to sleep for the night. The next morning her hair began falling out en masse. The nurses said the headache was a common indicator. At her one year mark (after completing chemo) she was cancer-free and on her way to the all-important five-year mark. The whole family rejoiced - two cancers overcome in our family in as many years. We felt blessed.

My mother continued working through her treatment so that she could make it to that all important 65-year mark and her first Social Security check. She loved her job and the friends she made at the bank. My dad had been medically retired for 15 years at this point and all he looked forward to was her retirement so they could travel in their motor home across the country visiting friends and relatives. It seemed like perfect timing since the Navy had transferred us to Southern California in the summer of 1995.

Looking back, the signs were there but they weren't quite as obvious as we would have liked and of course we don't go looking for these sorts of things either. She always said she did not want to travel all year in a motor home. She liked sleeping in her own bed, being in her own home and hated the thought of being in such a small space with my dad. They were married in 1947 and when she finally made the decision to leave him in 1983, an attorney told her that due to his physical condition and not being able to work, she would have to pay him alimony. She didn't make much money and he was already receiving Social Security disability payments so she stayed, feeling like she had no options.

I will always remember how he talked to her the last time I saw them together. The meanness in his voice was worse than you would talk to an animal and more like the way masters talked to their slaves. Remember how Marston talked to his aborigine slaves in "Quigley Down Under"?

I had flown home to Jacksonville, Fla., for a family reunion. She really wanted me to come and had paid half my airfare to be at the reunion on Sept. 28, 1996. She had set her retirement date as Oct. 1 and they were planning on leaving for California the end of October and arriving mid-December to spend a few months with us. When we asked her if there was going to be a retirement party for her by her co-workers, she said no, she didn't want one. My mom not wanting a party? Hmmm. Anyway, less than 24 hours after returning to California, I received a call and the living nightmare began.

If you haven't scheduled your annual mammogram, pick up the phone now before you forget it. If someone you know or you are in a relationship that is not emotionally fulfilling, get help or get out. You are important to us and deserve happiness. There are those who give us energy and those who drain us dry. Recognize them both.

-- To reach Gail Davis, e-mail RuhenstrothRamblings@yahoo.com or call 265-1947.


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