Alcohol and breast cancer
I remember the moment I was told my mother had passed away with great clarity. I was sitting in a car, five months pregnant with my second child, outside a new house that was being built. Our new home. I hadn't been in touch with my mother since the first onset of breast cancer a few years previous. We had a strained, empty relationship that created many scars in my heart. As a child I craved her. I wanted her to be a proper, engaged mother but the drink prevented her from being so. I didn't realise any of this at the time obviously, wrapped in the oblivion of childhood, I didn't understand what was happening most of the time. All I really remember is sadness. My mum drank a lot, she drank everyday and acted weirdly to me as a kid. She was often angry, shouting, tired and probably very depressed and also probably very, very lonely.
As I got older, particularly in my teenage years, I started to rebel. I fought back. I resented her so much. She ruined everything, embarrassed me in front of my friends, she told lies and people around the village would snigger behind our backs. It was dreadful and I felt intense shame throughout most of my childhood and teenage years. Finally one Christmas Day [also my birthday], I caught her having an affair. My mother went out on Christmas evening to 'meet friends' and a series of events occurred that left my Dad and I in tears. Happy Birthday! The following morning I walked out of my parents house after confronting her about it and told her I never wanted to see her again. Enough was enough and I meant it. I was 21.
I didn't see or hear from her again for over 10 years. I car crashed my way through my 20's making countless errors in judgement and plenty of life changing mistakes. My drinking escalated. I can remember drinking bottles of red wine alone in my room in a shared house just outside of London. It was a dark existence. I collected and lost new friends along the way and I felt desperately disconnected from life.
I can't remember how I found out about my mothers breast cancer the first time around, but somehow we managed to briefly reconnect. I drove the long drive from the south coast of England to Lincoln where she was now living with the affair man. It was surreal seeing her. Not only because I hadn't really seen her for 10 years, but now she was also bald from her cancer treatment, still knocking back rose wine and smoking cigarettes. The prognosis was fairly positive and within months she was out of the woods and making great progress. We lost touch again. Temporarily band-aiding a hopeless relationship was hard work and frankly, unrewarding.
People along the way were some times very quick to judge my relationship with my mother. How can anyone really understand it though? If they hadn't lived my life or walked in my shoes? Typical comments would include 'she's your mother though', 'you only get one mum', 'you should make more effort' etcetera. I was avoiding the 'long term' and was just trying to scrabble my way through the 'now'. Deep down in the depths of my soul I knew one day she would no longer be here and I genuinely didn't know how I felt about that, if anything.
So sitting outside this big brand new home that was being built for my new family, pregnant and contemplating my life choices [there were plenty of issues in my relationship with my ex, even then], my phone buzzed and it was a direct message on social media from an old friend of mums, daughter. I knew instantly.
'I assume you heard the news?'. Nope. 'I'm so sorry for your loss'. Shit. Mum. She's dead - she must be.
Turns out the cancer came back super aggressively and killed her within 3 days. She died in a hospice in Lincoln with who knows who. A grim thought for anyone let alone her own child. I appreciate some might think of my immediate reaction: 'well this was predictable, what else did you expect?'. I can't answer that, like I say, it was complicated. And actually if I could re-write the stars I honestly would have made us close, loving and strong together for every minute we had on earth. But we all know life isn't always like that.
I didn't feel that much when I found out. I didn't cry really. I didn't even talk about it with anyone. My ex sort of shrugged and said 'oh dear' and then that was that. Stiff upper lip. Although everyone knew of my mother-issues so its no sunrise people had no idea how to comfort me or know what to say. Just like most of my life with my mum, it was all just a bit strange.
One thing I feel sure of is that lifestyle played a part in her early death. She was an alcoholic and a heavy smoker. There are more and more articles being written about the link between lifestyle and, in particular, breast cancer. Thats not to say all people with breast cancer drink too much, they might not drink at all, sometimes I think people get very unlucky and that's heartbreaking.
My mother died at 55 years old. Not the youngest, but certainly still young in my eyes. Even though I didn't really absorb her death at the time it is having a profound affect on me 5 years on. I was terrified that my drinking would impact me and my family in the same way if I didn't get it under control, or stop completely. Now that I am in my early 40's I feel that pressure to take better care of myself and minimise any damage to my body, mind, health and wellbeing.
Who knows what is round the corner for any of us. I may still get a life changing diagnosis one day in the future, with two immediate family members with similar types of cancer in my family history I am probably more on my way to it than most. What I do know is that by changing my direction and stopping alcohol altogether I have a much better chance of a cleaner conscience. If I do get breast cancer at least I know that I did try to make positive changes and that it was just probably written in my stars anyway. I know now that I won't sit in a doctors office in 5 or 10 years time being told bad news and then regretting that 'I should have given up drinking alcohol years ago'.
So even though there are demons from the relationship with my mother, tears that I probably haven't shed yet and pain I am yet to deal with, I am grateful for learning from her life experience and implementing positive life changes in mine. I still have buckets of insecurities about being a mother to two daughters myself, thats another blog post right there! However If it were not for Mum I possibly wouldn't have had such a messed up relationship with alcohol. Equally, if it wasn't for her I wouldn't be quitting the booze for good and enjoying sobriety as much as I am either. Every cloud I guess.