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Dawn's Column - Weathering The Storms

POSTED June 8, 2011 1:27 a.m.
Two of my closest friends have each been weathering multiple storms and going through major life changes. It seems that the hits have kept on coming for them. These two are my good-time pals, I have some of my most fun memories with them. Now, however, I no longer live nearby and struggle with my feelings that I can’t physically be there for either of them during these hard times.
It is said that it rains on the just and the unjust but “Sarah” and “Candice” have had it pouring on them for over a year. I’m trying to be mindful, however, that after the rain, the sun comes out and flowers eventually bloom, too.
Candice’s father just passed away and she’s had the responsibility of being in charge of all the arrangements. The news was a surprise to me although I had known her dad was having some serious mental health issues. Her father was a Vietnam veteran and was still haunted by memories of things that happened some 40 years ago. He had survived cancer but it was post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, that left an indelible mark on him.
A little over a year ago, he had a serious, scary episode around the holidays and the family’s lives began to unravel. Candice later discovered that her father had decided to stop taking his medication without telling anyone, which prompted the episode. His agitation and subsequent delusions left Candice in charge of his health. She found herself counting the pills in his prescriptions daily to learn if he was actually taking his medications. Having her own family with two young children, her father’s illness and his need for care put additional stress on her marriage.
She had so much on her plate that reaching her on the phone was difficult and text messages were insufficient. A year ago, as I was getting married, she was moving out of the home she had shared with her husband. She was happy for me, but I knew she was struggling and I felt helpless to do anything for her. She then found herself going through a divorce and trying to cope with her parents going through one as well.
To put it in her words, “things are a mess,” but somehow she’s managed to hold it all together and keeps on saying, “I’m good.”
Sarah’s younger sister, a wife and mother of two young girls, just underwent a bone marrow transplant. Sarah’s sister’s battle with leukemia has been a rollercoaster ride for the family. There was a time when we thought she had it beat. While undergoing treatment, she never appeared sick; keeping a healthy weight and having a good wig hid what she was going through. But it returned and now, we wait and see and pray that she will have many more birthdays. The fear in Sarah’s voice when she’s called about her sister’s condition and prognosis is palpable.
Just before her sister became ill, Sarah had sent herself back to school for a career change and a more promising future. She sacrificed a lot to invest the time and money required. She found a new love, and discovered that he had PTSD from his time in serving in Desert Storm.
As I knew my friend Candice was going through the trials of PTSD with her father, I recall telling Sarah and her new guy how important it was for him to follow the doctor’s instructions and keep getting the help he needs. However, his long struggles continued and he sought to self-medicate while Sarah spent much of her time at school.
Shortly before graduation, Sarah landed in the hospital for several days with blood clots and then an infection she contracted during her stay. She finally recovered, her sister was diagnosed, and her relationship ended, but she graduated.
Sarah’s embarked on a new life and she now holds the license she needs to pursue her new career but the stress and fear related to the unknown with her sister’s condition are overwhelming.
I know I can only offer an ear to listen for my girlfriends, but finding the right words to comfort them in their situations without sounding trite is a challenge. I’m at a loss sometimes. Trying to mix the right amount of cheerleading with the right amount of sympathy seems truly inadequate at times.
While my friends have been going through these trials, they’ve also each been going through a sort of metamorphosis. They’ve been adapting and evolving and have been able to find some spots of sunshine in the rain. While there have been a few expected and understandable breakdowns on their parts, there have been some amazing shows of strength and perseverance and some triumphs as well.
I’m proud of both of them and how they’re both keeping the faith. As I write this, I’m planning to go see both of them to offer an actual shoulder to lean on if they need it.
Many of you can identify with the devastating toll that PTSD or cancer takes on a family unit. These are two constant and growing health concerns for our society and for those of you who don’t have experience with these issues, I encourage you to learn more.

Dawn M. Henley is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News, and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at dhenley@oakdaleleader.com or by calling 847-3021.
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