Week 36 – This one’s for the ladies

Donate: Run for the Cure

This week’s weigh-in: 175 lbs

Weight loss to date: 61 lbs

To goal: 5 lbs

Thank you.  It’s been another great week.  Feels great to be back to 175 lbs. With a couple of weeks left of my sessions, the finish line is within reach.  The challenge will be to stay on course and not slack off.  As always,  I know you’ll be in my corner.  I certainly wouldn’t be here without you.

I wouldn’t be here without a lot of people.

I’ve written about some of my male role models and friends in previous posts.  I figure it’s time I wrote about some of the women in my life.

Two in particular:

My grandmother, Nan Read, and mother, Helen Read.

(Well, three actually.  I don’t have a picture of my maternal grandmother in a digital format.)

You’ll remember Nan from my post for my entry for Run for the Cure.  Yes, I will be linking to my donation page every time I mention Run for the Cure.  Nan is a breast cancer survivor.  Helen’s mother, Ellen (Grammie) MacEachern, did not survive.  Both my grandmothers had breast cancer.  On top of that, my paternal grandfather, Tom Read Sr., died of lung cancer.

Three out of four of my grandparents have had cancer.  Only in Sydney. Must be something in the water … and the air … and the topsoil.

Posting about Run for the Cure earlier this week started me thinking about the influence of the women in my life.  I was particularly thinking about my family.  I used to use the history of cancer, high blood pressure and diabetes in my family as an excuse to not lose weight.  I’m genetically cursed, so why bother? Have fun now.  Suffer later.

A woman convinced me otherwise.  More on that in a later post.

While I may have used my family in the past as an excuse for my complacency, now its my excuse for going forward.  Both my grandmothers were women of their generation, the so-called “greatest generation”.  Born just after the First World War, grew up through the Great Depression, and raised their kids alone while their husbands went off to war.  (Nan was a little lucky on the last point.  My grandfather Tom was assigned to civil defence and was based out of Sydney, so they got to see each other fairly regularly.)

They also raised families three to four times the size of the average family today.  That takes a certain amount of stamina.  I’m sure Mom and Dad were perfect angels to their parents and it was just their brothers and sisters that were utter brats.

Yeah, right.

Nan was born Dionysus Poirier in the Plateau, just outside Cheticamp.  Acadians have this habit of occasionally using ancient Roman names for their kids.  They moved to Glace Bay where her father and brothers worked the No. 11 colliery.  There she met Tom Read.  It was a controversial relationship from the start.  She was a Catholic and he was an Anglican.  That counted as a mixed marriage in Depression-era Cape Breton.  To escape the scorn of their relatives, they moved to the thriving metropolis of Sydney to marry and raise a family.

It wasn’t just marrying a “prod” (Protestant) that made Nan a rebel.  She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1973, just after my parents became engaged.  Not wanting to distract from the festivities, she quietly had a mastectomy to remove the tumour.  She was also into new age-y stuff like yoga and vegetarianism in the 70s, decades before it was trendy.

She would be similarly stoic in facing her husband’s cancer several years later.  Dad once told me he visited once towards the end to find that Nan hadn’t eaten in days because the very smell of food made my grandfather sick.  Back then the palliative care unit at a hospital might have been one bed in a dimly lit, window-less room.

Yes,  I know that pretty much describes every hospital room in the 1970s.  Yet faced with that for her husband’s final days, she chose her own discomfort so he could stay in their home a little longer.

Nan’s a tough bugger.  She turned 95 this year.  Anyone who makes it to 95 is doing something right.  It was just in the past year she finally relented and moved into a nursing home.  It’s been a tough adjustment.  When I first visited her there last year, she seemed under the impression it was temporary while she healed up from hip replacement #2.

That’s right, hip replacement #2.

Coffee buddies, July 2011

She’s since accepted it and is enjoying it more.  My aunts try to bring her out to the family bungalow in Ben Eoin as much as they can, which makes her happy.  When we had an end of summer dinner last month, we had our campfire early so she could partake.

Last Ben Eoin campfire of 2011

Where Nan was the paragon of Acadian stoicism, Grammie MacEachern was the paragon of Scottish stoicism.  Born Ellen Kyte and raised on a farm in East Bay, overlooking the Bras D’or Lakes.  Billionaires lust for the view my grandmother grew up with.  She would marry her childhood sweetheart, Donald MacEachern, and move to the shipyard district of Sydney where he took up carpentry.  Donald would be conscripted and sent overseas, leaving her with two boys to care for until he came home.  My grandfather was also a severe asthma sufferer.  Not a good condition to have when you spend your work day around sawdust.  They read last rites to him on more than one occasion while my parents dated.  He would actually outlive his wife.

She would be diagnosed with breast cancer and it would be his turn to take care of her.  She spent the last couple of years of her life in and out of hospital for treatment.  Since we were so young, the grandkids were sheltered from the full extent of the situation.  Like a proper Scot, Mom doesn’t exactly talk about it, either, so forgive me if I’m scant on the details.

She’s been gone a little over 20 years now.  I remember her wry smile, her lilting accent.  When we got sick, she would often take care of us while our parents went off to work.

You couldn’t ask for better grandmothers.

Now for Helen or, as I call her, Mom. Frankly, I’m not sure where to begin.  Like any mother-son relationship, it’s been rough on occasion.  With the passage of time, I can recognize that she always had my best interests at heart.

She gave up a lot with our move to Fredericton.  Her mother had passed away the year before and the prospect of the oldest daughter leaving town was going over like a fart in church.  With the healthcare cutbacks in the early-90s, there was no guarantee she would be able to practice her trade as an ultrasound technician when we moved.  Despite all this, she relented so her husband could advance in his career and her kids could live in a cleaner, safer city. (It didn’t help that the homicide rate in Sydney was at all time high that year which included a triple homicide at the Sydney River McDonald’s).

She’s been one of my greatest supporters in everything I do.  She doesn’t tell me she’s proud of me.  She doesn’t have to.  She shows me.

Me and Mom, CUA Commencement, Washington, DC, May 2011

Living in another city from my family, we keep in touch with Skype.  Better than the phone, but still a poor substitute for real contact.  Every time we’ve met since I started this journey, she started crying.  Before I met up her and Dad in DC for commencement in May, Dad wondered aloud if they’d even recognize me.  Mom replied, “He’s my son.  I’ll know.”

When I pulled into the bungalow in Ben Eoin in July, I saw the hand head to the eyes to wipe away a tear.

I’ve never been so proud to make my Mom cry.


Donate: Run for the Cure


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