WE ALL FIGHT: Cancer, Depression, The Gym? and Redemption

The Morning After

I rolled over in my bed. As I did, the light shining through my window hit my eyes and pulled me out of a sleep that I had reluctantly fallen into. I opened my eyes and tried my best not to feel anything.

 

My head hurt. Probably a combination of the 5th of vodka I had consumed the night before mixed with the hours of screaming ferociously with my head buried into a pillow in an attempt to conceal my current state of emotions from my distraught family.

 

I was disoriented. I knew something was wrong but I couldn’t identify the source of my unease. It was as if my brain was purposefully preventing me from recollecting the actuality that the one thing I had feared most for the past 14 months had finally swept through my life, leaving wreckage and uncertainty and sorrow.

 

As I always did when I was overcome by fear, I immediately grabbed my cell phone and dialed my mom’s number.

 

As it rang once, I thought about what I was going to say when she picked up. How was I going to voice my distress?

 

As it rang twice, I realized that my mom was not going to pick up.

 

As it rang a third time, I realized that I was never going to speak to my mom again.

 

By the fourth ring, it had finally set in that one day prior, my mother had lost her battle with breast cancer and I was going to have to start living life without the person who had taught me how to passionately live it.

 

“Welp, I’m fucked” I thought to myself. “My mom is gone.”

 

“What do I do now? What’s next?”

 

Natural Reaction

I don’t know why, but I grabbed some shorts and a T-shirt and drove to the gym. I didn’t try to ask myself why. I simply let my body carry me where it thought I should go. So off I went.

Not to sound like a meathead, but during this time in my life, the gym was the one thing that made sense. It was the one place where I didn’t have to confront anything besides gravity. Resistance came in the form of physical weight, which was a welcomed vacation from the constant barrage of emotional resistance that awaited me anytime I was alone.

During the weeks following the loss of my mother, I gravitated toward the gym because my house was no longer my

The least intimidating woman with a gun ever? Perhaps <3

The least intimidating woman with a gun ever? Perhaps <3

home. Home was a hollow shell of everything that I had once bled passion for; pictures and trophies and cards. Reminders of how blessed I was to have love on every side of me became the object of my scrutiny. Pain radiated from things that used to embody love. It drove me crazy.

My family is great, but my mom was the glue. She was the thing that reminded me that the world is beautiful and that life is an adventure that will always turn out awesome if you stay fuckin’ tough and hang on to the people that care about you.

 

Gotta Stick To What Works

When she died, my house became a tomb to all of that goodness that she embodied. When she left, she took it with her. She left me with the blueprint and the structure and the walls and roof. But with her, she took the light and the warmth and the certainty that I was okay no matter where I went or what I did. I was left with fear and doubt and frustration. And I hated it. I hated being home. So I went to the gym.

I went to the gym every day in the weeks following my mom’s death. When your only options are 1: wale in sadness 2: help plan the funeral of the person you love most 3: go workout for an hour, suddenly going to the gym seems like a tropical vacation.

The gym was a constant reminder that I still had control over certain things. Knowing I had the ability to make myself stronger was reassuring during a time when I did not know much. I always knew what awaited me at the gym; Sports on the TV, a little small talk with the workout regulars, and a chance for me to remind myself that I am stronger than I thought.

Working out salvaged my sanity during this time of my life in the weeks immediately following the loss. But I had no idea of the impossibly difficult trials that awaited me as I attempted to live on and move forward through grief once the funeral was over and the friendly condolences had stopped.

 

This Next Step Was A Bitch…

After the funeral, I stuck around home for a couple weeks. I stayed for Christmas and then headed back to where I was currently residing, Washington DC, to try to work a job that I had recently started.

Starting a new job in a new city, away from family and friends is hard enough. But trying to do that in addition to grieving the loss of your dear sweet mother? I was not ready for that shit. It took everything, like literally every piece of whatever it is that makes me a person, to get up every day and go to work.

 

Ever work a job as a phone salesman? Talking to strangers that don’t want to buy anything from you is hard. Talking to strangers that don’t want to buy anything from you while suffering from depression and grieving the loss of your mom is even harder. I loved the people I worked with and the place I worked at, but getting on the phone and calling 40 strangers every day is about the worst thing I can think of when the only thing you want to do is press pause on the world and mourn the loss of the one person you loved most.

 

I am not sure if the amount of pain you go through after losing someone has a direct correlation to how much you loved them while they were still alive, but I am going to tell you this. I loved the shit out of my mom. I told her I loved her every single day since I was old enough to know what those 3 words meant. Most people speak highly of the deceased out of respect, but ask anyone who knew my mom and you’ll know I am not speaking an ounce of bull shit here. She was an indescribably loving, compassionate and wholesome person and it was and will be the greatest privilege of my life getting to be her son. And for this reason, I experienced a tremendous amount of pain trying to make sense of her early death and trying to get used to life without her in it.

 

Depression (AKA When Things Got REALLY Shitty)

I was diagnosed with depression 3 months after my mom had died. Big deal, right? Millions of people soldier through depression every day.

Even with no hair, she was still ahhhhhmazingly beautiful.

Even with no hair, she was still ahhhhhmazingly beautiful.

But when you find yourself suddenly battling YOUR own personal depression and mix that with unexperienced grief, and then find yourself living hundreds of miles from your loved ones, your perspective completely changes. You no longer see where light shines. You only see where darkness takes over. You don’t hear music. You only hear noise that reminds of you a happiness that you’re certain will never be felt again. You don’t laugh. You force smiles. You are trapped in your body, weighed down by fear of the future and jealousy of the past.  A death that rattles the foundation of what you built your life upon has a way of dislodging any happiness, confidence and faith that you once thought you had. And because of this, I had an extremely hard time fighting through each day.

During this time, waking up was nearly impossible. It was as if the first breath I took in the morning was immediately suffocated by a wave of anxiety and pain. I thought it was so unfair. Life didn’t even give me a chance to get my bearings before it deflated me and buried me in fear and doubt.

Against odds I saw insurmountable, I forced myself to get up and go to the gym. I never skipped it. At the time, I couldn’t figure out why I refused to stay in bed, but something inside me forced me to get up and get moving. After the gym, I soldiered on to work. And through my best effort to remain numb, I made it through the work day.

I would take the train home, and then emotionally implode upon walking through the door of my empty studio apartment. I would cling to pictures and articles of clothing that were once hers as I grasped for air between intense bouts of crying. I had never cried that hard in my life, but the good news is is that it’s exhausting. So after an hour or so I would pass out and sleep until my alarm went off the following morning, starting the whole process again.

It was hard. I know people go through tough shit every single day, but I had a hard time dealing with the tough shit going on in my world. It was exhausting and maddening and lonely and the one person in my life that was good at supporting me through times like these was now gone.

But here’s the thing. I did it. I got through it. I persevered because a piece of me deep inside knew full-well that all hope was not, and never would be, lost. A small piece of me, heavily influenced by the mother I lost and loved and continue to love, was completely certain that life would be awesome if I stayed fuckin’ tough and hung on to the people that cared about me.

Read The Scoreboard A Little More Closely

I firmly believe that somewhere deep inside, I relentlessly attended the gym every morning because I was embodying the fundamental life lessons that my mom had instilled in me from a young age, and getting my ass up each morning during this tough time was a way to keep my mom as close as possible at a time when I thought I had forever lost her. I had no idea at the time, but my inability to say “no” to the gym was symbolic of a greater inability to give up. Something my mom had taught me.

My mom may not have won her battle with cancer in the literal sense. Yes she was subjected to harsh and painful treatments that drained the life out of her. Yes she had allergic reactions to certain chemicals that caused her skin to feel as if it were literally burning off. Yes she lost her hair. Yes she lost her breasts. Yes she lost her ability to walk. Yes she lost her life.

But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find that she won gloriously imperfect victories during her fight that will continue to empower and inspire as the true amazingness of her feats of spiritual strength become known and realized.

She never let cancer prevent her from being an amazing mother who made sure all her loved ones were taken care of. She never let cancer break her desire to improve the lives of people she came into contact with every day. She never let cancer take away her appreciation for spending time with loved ones. She never let cancer make her selfish. She never let cancer make her cruel. She never let cancer create feelings of doubt and regret. She never let cancer take away her light. Even at her sickest, she still radiated an indescribable amount of life and love and passion and hope and strength and goodness that I am sure will remain unmatched for the rest of my life.

 

Rise, And Rise Again…

My mom in October, 12 months after her initial dianosis

My mom in October 2012, 12 months after her initial diagnosis

She fought intensely. She let herself be afraid, she let herself rely on the help of the ones she loved, she let herself fall. But she refused to stay down. She would always rise back up and meet whatever challenge confronted her, and she gave it everything she had, even when it appeared she had nothing left at all. Over and over and over again, she would rise back up. It was incredible. She rose and fought until her spirit to fight could no longer be matched by her body’s ability to press on. To die fighting ferociously and valiantly for the things that you love and believe in most is the bravest thing one can do. My mom did that. And a son never forgets that. A son embodies that. A son continues that tradition.

So looking back, it makes sense why some part of me, deep inside, refused to stay in bed. Something inside forced me to rise up and try my best to meet each day with strength and passion. Something inside refused to forget what my mom had taught me and continues to teach me.

 

What To Make Of It All

So, there’s my story. It’s October, so I thought it would be appropriate to share what breast cancer had done to my mom and my family. But why am I really writing this? To tell you that if you are suffering emotionally that you should find refuge in the gym? Not really (but it’s been scientifically shown to help)

To brag about how awesome my mom was? Well, partially.

But the real reason I am writing this is to remind you to embody the pure things that you experience while you pursue what is truly important. Sometimes it is best to put distractions down so that you can passionately experience the company of love and compassion and friendship. These are the experiences that will shape you and determine how you respond to things.

Good and bad, these experiences will manifest themselves in your fighting spirit, and you’ll respond like a bad ass without really knowing where your courage or reluctancy to surrender comes from. During tough times, let yourself listen to the little voices, feel the gentle nudges, and acknowledge the subtle nuances that your mind and heart bring to your attention. They are trying to tell you something. Don’t stop fighting. Fearlessly be yourself, get help from the amazing people in your life if you need it, and soldier on.

My mom would kill me if I the last picture I showed you was a sad one. So here is a happy one of her and baby me! She's pretty

My mom would kill me if the last picture I showed you was a sad one. So here is a happy one of her and baby me! She’s pretty

If you have a loved one currently battling cancer, honor their battle by embracing their strength and applying it your life. Talk about nice memories. Tell them you love them. Go out and kick ass. Get out of your comfort zone and stay there for a while and see all the cool shit that happens. Learn from their fight and apply what you see to your life, regardless of the outcome.

If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, don’t let hard times defeat your outlook on forever. Grief is tough but has a purpose. Having someone amazing in your life and then losing them leaves your soul vulnerable, and grief, along with the lessons you have learned through life, will help you learn how to live with purpose and passion again.

Cling to whatever feelings your heart decides that you should feel. You never know, you might look back one day and realize that certain actions and behaviors were really the person you missed most trying to impart on you the amazing lessons that they had taught you during their life and passing.

Why?

My mom taught me to leave this world a better place than when you found it, which is why I created this site. I do not have too many talents (i’m an injured meathead that can write okay), but I was blessed with the ability to relate to people and to also improve their lives and bodies through fitness . Life is short and I want to improve as many people’s lives as possible using what means I have. I have fitness knowledge and the ability to communicate it in a way that makes it readable, so it is my sincere hope that this site provides you with information that will allow you to build a better, happier and healthier body that enriches all other aspects of you life.

Last thing

This was hard for me to write, so thank you for reading. Please share if you think anyone will find this article enriching or inspiring.

And if you take anything away from this article, I hope it is the simple lesson that my mom taught me…

Stay fuckin’ tough and hang on to the people that care about you. 

 

In honor of Christie Rosen 12-25-56 to 12-7-2012

In Honor of My Mom, Christie Rosen

And Women Battling Breast Cancer Everywhere


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