|Image provided by Carol Sutton at|
One of the things you start to pay attention to as a genealogist is when and how your ancestors died. Most of my ancestors, on the Irish and Italian sides, lived long lives, even the ones born during the Great Famine. My maternal grandmother passed away two years ago, days short of her 99th birthday.
My side of the family hasn't dealt with much cancer. So maybe I took my own longevity for granted. I didn't know that most women that get breast cancer don't actually have a family history of it.
Since I learned I was pregnant with the Bean, my lovely little girl, I've been careful. I've tried to eat well, keep my weight down. But I exercised too little and snacked too much. I've made sure to look both ways before crossing the street, but still got knocked down by a truck once. I've seen my doctor regularly, but I forgot to do my monthly breast examination. I didn't realize how risky that could be.
As a result, last night, I had to tell the Bean that Mommy has breast cancer and it's in a few places it shouldn't be, besides my breast. So now we know why I've been feeling so low since the end of August.
To my surprise, today I feel better than I have in weeks. I feel that today's new cancer treatments, plus all the support I've received from family, friends, coworkers and bloggers has built me an army that can kill cancer.
And my relatives and in-laws are part of my army. I have been doing a visualization involving pulling out my tumours and replacing them with loving, healing light. From the beginning, the living and the dead from my family tree have been joining me in the visualization, helping to heal me. My Sweetie's mom, who survived breast cancer but not lung cancer, is there. Her name was Helen, which means "light." Helen, my Moynihan aunts and uncles, my grandmother are all helping. And I swear that last night, my other grandmother, my namesake Katie, came by to give me a hug goodnight.
You know, I thought I was going to write about how it feels to add the yucky information to the family tree: the illneses, the deaths, the tragedies. But that's not really the lesson I want to share. I've realized in writing this that whether we call ourselves genealogists or family historians, whether we research for fun or for posterity, genealogy has been giving back to us. We're giving it dates and sources, it's giving us people. Today, for me, it's giving me support and healing. My family tree isn't a GEDCOM file. My family tree is a network of people who have loved and protected their kin forever. I've been trying to tell their stories in this blog. And I think they are helping me to continue that work.
But for a little while, I'll need to take a break. I understand I'm likely to feel worse before I feel better. I'll be back to tell you how a Moynihan became a Monahan, about Alfred Burrows' WWI service, and many other stories. When I can.
Til then, some homework for you:
- Homework Assignment 1: Get caught up on those tests you've been forgetting about. Check your breasts. Get that mammogram. See your doctor. Tell your sisters, your daughters, your girlfriends, your wives. Take care of yourself, so you can take care of your family.
- Homework Assignment 2: I'd love to hear your stories of your ancestors reaching out to help and support you. I may sound a little crazy, but I don't think I'm the only one.