“I maintain a healthy, balanced schedule. I stay engaged in my academics. I keep in contact with a close, supportive network of friends. I exercise every day. I don’t drink alcohol. I practice near perfect sleep hygiene. I down all the pills the doctors’ prescribe. I have endured countless medical tests and procedures. I don’t eat anything they tell me to avoid. I take a lightened course load. I work on stress reduction techniques and coping mechanisms. I meditate and practice deep breathing. I try to get out in the sunlight and enjoy nature. I am open—probably honest to a fault—with my family. I orient my attention towards gratitude. I pray throughout the day and go to mass at least once a week……and look where all this effort and mindfulness has gotten me! I am plagued by intractable pain that none of the 90 some-odd doctors I’ve seen can explain or treat. Mom, I’m so sorry to say this, but I just don’t have any faith today.”
Somehow, someway the one person who has suffered with me and never strayed through every single day of my illness, in that moment of despair, through tears, gave me something more. After all she has given me, all of herself, her energy, her time, her livelihood, she managed to grant me yet another gift I will forever treasure. She said: “Francie, I know how much I love you so how could I not have faith in love?”
A mother’s love is like nothing else in the world…
At the onset of my illness my physical state was dismal but my laboratory results were consistently equivocal and provided very weak scientific evidence for what, if anything, was wrong with me. Understandably, exacerbated by his inadequacy to help me recover from EBV my family doctor began to assume that my symptoms must be psychosomatic. If nothing in my blood was indicative of the complaints I was presenting, the only logical explanation he could come up with was that I had to be subconsciously inciting the wide array symptoms and harping on seemingly general malaise rooted in depression. He brought this possibility forward to my mom and when she didn’t fall for it he turned to my dad to see if he could get a bite out of him. When the suggestion of this being “all in my head” was first mentioned I was in such physical disarray that I might have believed the doctor. As a 16 year old who was petrified by the sensations of a body that had declared mutiny on itself I certainly couldn’t have stood up and said anything with any credible conviction. That doctors ultimate hope was to force me out of his exam room and straight into a psychiatrists office. If it weren’t for my mom that likely would have happened and could have lead to long-lasting psychological damage and inedible self-doubt that might have haunted me for life. It would have greatly delayed the medical attention that was necessary to get me off of bed-rest and closer to normalcy. My mom will tell you to this day, it was simple for her to know how to handle the situation. She heard that voice in her head, which said: “I know Francie. I know my daughter and I know she is not making this up. I know something is wrong”. It was quite naturally her mother’s instinct that inspired her to take me out of that family practice, to never look back. A little more than two months later my diagnosis of Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome was made my one of the most respected diagnosticians at John Hopkins University Hospital. We were referred to my beloved pediatric cardiologist at CHOP and I was back in school, albeit part-time, the next semester. I wasn’t where we hoped I would be, and I still am not, but I was in a much better place than I would be had I not had the medical care my mother insisted I deserved by virtue of being an ailing human. By being my voice when I needed an advocate most my mom reiterated the never-ending love she has shown me since April 2, 1994. For all of my life she has remained my most loyal friend, comforting ally, and selfless guardian.
Six years ago, I literally could not stand up for myself, so my mom did it for me; and has continued to do so every day since. When I cried, she cried with me. When I hurt, she hurt with me. I was never left alone at any point because she was always strong enough to stay with me. Dog-enthusiasts like ourselves use the quote, “I want to be the person my dog thinks I am.” However, I know in my heart that if there’s anything I want to be it is the person my mom thinks I am—and if I am wise and courageous enough to live the way she does than ideally that grown woman version of myself will look a lot like her.
A mother’s love is like nothing else in the world…
I adore St. Valentine’s Day not because of how it is celebrated, but because of what it stands for…and it is because of my mom that I am able to recognize and appreciate the value of that little four-lettered word. Through her selfless devotion to my dad, sister, brother, and me she has taught me the three most important lessons I will learn in this lifetime:
1. how to be loved,
2. how to love, and
3. how to never lose faith in love.