By Inge Scott
A friend told me a while ago that my childhood experiences probably gave me the strength to deal with cancer.
I have been giving her comment a lot of thought lately. Looking back, I can say my life journey (so far) has been one hell of a ride. I have no regrets, although there have been times where I seemed to always be “swimming against the tide.”
My mother was an addict.
Her drug of choice was codeine. Back in the 60s doctors (or maybe it was just our family doctor) wrote prescriptions anytime a patient asked for them. My mom ate codeine pills like they were candy and washed them down with good old-fashioned whisky. When I turned ten, she wanted me to join “the party.” I never liked the taste of alcohol but I pretended to go along, to keep from getting a beating.
Sometimes I still got one though; it just depended on what mood she was in.
My parents met in Germany. Dad was in the Air Force and Mom was living at home with her parents, working as a photographer. On the rare occasions when she talked about her life, she said her mother was abusive to her. When she met my dad, she thought he was her “ticket” out of Germany and a chance to live in America, where everyone was “rich and glamorous.” After a couple of years living in the States, reality set in. My dad was not a rich man and she was now saddled with a lively, two-year-old daughter. My mother was pissed.
This was not the life she wanted.
Two months shy of my 18th birthday, I had a chance to get away from my abusive home-life and hit the road in a compact car, with two boys and set out for North Carolina. At night I slept in a sleeping bag outside the front doors of closed businesses.
I had no life skills and was pretty naïve, but I learned to be street smart pretty quick. For the next few years I dated abusive men, before settling down and marrying a drunk. I believed I could change him. Don’t we all?
We had a son and that is when I changed. I would not allow my child to grow up in the same environment I did. The cycle ended with me.
I became independent. I left my husband and soon my world revolved around my son. A few years later my dad had a serious heart attack, so my son and I moved back home to California to take care of him.
I was working at a women’s clothing store, when one day I saw an ad in the local newspaper for a delivery person. It was the early 80s and women didn’t take delivery jobs—especially auto parts. To my amazement, I got the job because I was the only person who brought a resume to the interview, even though I had zero experience delivering stuff and knew less about cars.
The manager at the clothing store thought I was crazy to take such a “menial” job and insisted it was certainly not lady-like. She gave me all kinds of grief over my decision, but I was about to double my pay, get health insurance and become a Teamster. I was going to deliver auto parts to local repair shops for a dealership.
Learning my job was easy but working with the male employees was another story. Some resented that I was doing a job that “rightfully” belonged to a man who needed to support his family.
“What’s wrong with you?” they would ask. “Can’t you find a man to take care of you?”
Sexual harassment on the job was a common occurrence in the 80s. I experienced plenty of it back East waiting tables at restaurants, and working in a male-dominated auto industry was no exception. The company’s break room walls were lined with centerfold pictures from Penthouse and Playboy. If I wanted to buy a drink from the soda machine, I had to push the “tits,” ass,” or “bush” buttons.
One day I brought in a centerfold picture of a naked male and taped it to the break room wall. All hell broke loose! The guys were “creeped out” and it was immediately removed.
The pictures of naked women stayed. When I complained about the double standard, I became the company “bitch.”
Mind you, my mother called me lots more creative names than the guys at the dealership, so I learned to tune them out. I was also gone most of the day, delivering parts to mechanics at repair shops, who were always happy to see me. Looking back, working in that environment made me stronger—not just physically, but emotionally.
It taught me to never give up.
Then I remarried. My dad died soon after and I found myself in “crisis.” I went to group counseling and read self-help books to get my life back on track. Then a friend suggested I take some college courses. That sounded like a good idea since I always like school, but I never expected the Liberal Arts classes I took would challenge everything I believed to be true.
Within a few months I became what Rush Limbaugh likes to call a “Femi-nazi.” My new husband was overwhelmed by the “new me” and decided it was better if we parted ways.
Once again I was a single mom, but I continued my education and new-found activism, like organizing and participating in marches against the war. I fought to save the planet, the whales and whatever else needed saving. I became the man I always wanted to marry (just kidding).
I enjoyed my new found independence and vowed to never be a victim again.
Then two decades later, cancer smacked me in the butt. I had a new husband and my son was now grown. They were my support system. I owe them a great deal for taking care of me. I don’t know if I would have had the same successful outcome without them, but I do know I was not going down without a fight.
So my friend is probably right. Not only did my childhood prepare me for the fight against cancer, but all my life experiences laid down the groundwork for that battle.
I am not alone. I’ve met plenty of others who had a “rocky” period in their lives, and it is those persons who seem to do the best. Not all of them survive, but they never give up trying. They keep showing up for whatever happens.
My hope is, after reading my story you will be inspired to keep showing up for whatever life throws your way.
Inge “Ingebird” Scott is a stage four rectal cancer survivor. She writes a blog called, Rectal Cancer My Ass, where she shares her journey back to wellness. She is a healthy food advocate, ostomate, vegan and aspiring Bodhisattva. She mentors newly diagnosed colorectal cancer patients through Imerman Angels. Connect with Inge on Twitter and Facebook.
Editor: Dana Gornall