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She was just past 63—years of age that is, not the Highway…or was that Highway 66? The Route they took to California when she became pregnant with her first son. Yes, I think that was 66. And now, counting on my fingers, I realize she was actually sixty-five. I am 63 but that’s close enough in age to relate to what it was like for her to wonder what news her biopsy would bring.

I was forty then and had often worried about losing her. I told her, that although I was a grown woman, I couldn’t see myself living without her. I told her I needed her and hugged her tightly, as if holding on to time. Her biopsy revealed that the lump was malignant and that began a fifteen year battle for my mother. Fifteen years don’t seem like such a long time to me now. These years are flying by at rapid speed. But that’s a long time for a battle.

I’ve been thinking about her a lot these days, she seems so close—like she is now the one giving me a hug. She set an example for me that I will try to model. She never lived life like she was sick and never wanted people to look at her that way. She was vibrantly alive, even in her weakness. So that’s how I, too, will choose to live life—finding strength in my weakness.

I’ve started to open to the fact that my own biopsy revealed I have a rare autoimmune disease called the “designer disease” (right?) because it affects everyone it afflicts differently. And what I’ve discovered is that many people I know are also dealing with autoimmune diseases, these conditions in which a person’s immune system mistakes its body’s own cells and tissues for foreign invaders and attacks them with antibodies, or T lymphocyte white blood cells, (that was a mouthful).

I’ve read that there are about eighty versions of these diseases, affecting twenty-four million people in the United States, mostly women, and are among the leading causes of death among women in the US. Why is this? If I look over the past twenty years of my own life, there have been signs of autoimmune issues developing. A good doctor has carried me through.

You would think these would have been indications that I needed to make some adjustments in how I was living in my body—not just physically, but also emotionally. Beyond medication, I did not. And if there is one important identifiable factor that needed facing up to, I would say it is that of self-love. How can a person focus so much on loving God and others and forget about loving herself?

Why have I found that so hard? Well…that’s another story, for another time. Or a few stories…

I wish my mom were here to talk this through with me. She would understand and have the right words to say. She would also blame herself, because that’s what women do. We often bear the rap for others’ misfortunes, mistakes, and miss steps. We are caretakers, taking care of others before ourselves, and I would say that’s exactly why autoimmune affects women more than men. But what do I know?

I do know that many women press on in spite of sickness—cancers, diabetes, heart issues, etc., included— fighting, and often, not always but often, supporting each other. This is hard to do well if you aren’t doing the work first to love yourself. It begins to wear on you. I know that it’s easier to put on the mask, bear the brunt, act like everything is fine, when you know deep inside, it is not.

There might be people close to you recognizing that something is a little off. You might push them away. Don’t. Stop. Listen. I never wanted to. Heart work is hard work. It takes brutal honesty.

So I guess what I want to say today as I walk this highway of honesty, is to not wait until you need a biopsy. Love God, love others but don’t forget to love yourself. I’m pretty certain that Highway produces New Life.

Photo credit: Brandi Ibrao

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