This is part of a series detailing my health journey to living a paleo-esque lifestyle. This gets deeply personal, and though I am slightly embarrassed by the openness of these posts in my otherwise private life, I strongly believe that if this can help even one person it'll be worth that embarrassment..
I feel I should step back and mention a few things before I go on with this series. The last couple of years I spent at college were more complicated than I've touched on thus far. Granted, dealing with overwhelming anxiety and chronic pain and fatigue was tough, but it wasn't all that was going on. I had many good things going for me, including planning a wedding with the love of my life. I also dealt with the loss of one parent, and the illness of the other (which eventually led to another loss, two years down the road). Not mentioning these things would be taking a huge portion of my own personal health context completely out of the picture.
My junior year--my study abroad year--was complicated enough without my father's diagnosis. (My relationship with him was complicated to say the least, and though I will let the dead rest in peace I can write that much.) While I was in England, [my dad] started having neurological problems. He started getting clumsy; his fingers didn't work the way they should. As a violist, clumsy fingers were all the more noticeable. At that point he worked in a factory, and it soon got to the point where he was having trouble navigating slippery floors with his feet. Clumsy. Sometime after I returned home from the UK he started going in for testing. My memory of all this is a little fuzzy, as I was over 3000 miles away from home when all this happened, but there was concern that he had neurological damage like my grandmother. (She had been in a wheelchair due to unexplained ataxia for years at that point.) Eventually he got final word that his condition was deteriorating due to ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease).
Lou Gehrig's disease. For the love of all things good--it seemed cruel that a musician so dependent on nimble fingers to be diagnosed with such a horrible disease. And for all the bitterness I harbored from my relationship with him, I couldn't comprehend the progression of his condtion--physically or psychologically. For those of you who are unfamiliar with ALS, the general idea is that your body eventually quits while your brain keeps functioning as normal. You end up paralyzed, usually from the extremities inward--essentially imprisoned within your brain.
My father continued to "function"--mostly due to stubbornness--until autumn of my senior year, when he fell down the stairs at my childhood home. He cracked his skull, and took a turn for the worse. He moved into hospice care and spent the remaining eight months or so of his life there. He died the day I graduated from college.
Meanwhile, my mother's health was not good. A once vibrant woman, my mom started fading sometime (I assume) while my father was ill. She had less and less energy. When I came home for spring break my senior year--assuming rightly that it'd be the last time I saw my father--she couldn't even walk down the block with me without sitting down on the curb about 100 yards from the house. It still pains me that she wouldn't go to the doctor, but in some ways I understand. There was so much going on that year; she didn't want to "trouble" anyone with her illness. Six months after I got married she was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. My dear mother hung on for two years, even though we thought she'd surely be gone within weeks of that diagnosis based on her condition at that point. She lived long enough to meet one grandchild, and long enough for me to really become her friend. I am so thankful for that time with her, and miss her greatly.
I feel horrible glossing over those couple of years. There was so much going on, but I think the deaths of your parents are major life events--especially when your parents were relatively young at the times of their passings. My mom was 53; my father, 51. And they both died from horrible illnesses, illnesses I never, ever, want to experience. (Incidentally, both my father and grandmother experienced neurological problems, whether related or not; my mother's side of the family has a very strong history of breast cancer diagnoses.) That is my context--my genes. What many say can't be 'beaten' except with frequent screenings. The beginnings of my feeling that screenings are not enough, and that prevention is at least as important.