I was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona by two beautiful parents. I have one brother who is a year younger than I am. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, but our parents made sure that my brother and I were exposed to an incredible variety of experiences. We were in all kinds of art programs, dance, drama, and sports. I would include singing in that list, but my brother got all that talent.
I can’t sing for crap. My brother is the more talented of us, artistically, musically, athletically, you name it. We swam for years, competitively. There were so many days I hated going to practice, but now those are the best memories, especially the swim meets.
As a result of the experiences our parents involved us in, we learned to appreciate diversity in every way. My parents had the greatest, most fun, friends and we were surrounded by that love. We were taught to love and respect people for who they were inside. There was no racism in our home. That is not to say we are benevolent, gracious people, perfect in every way. We were also taught to be tough. We tend to close doors on people if we’ve been wronged. Those doors are hard to open after they’ve been shut. It’s a fault my brother and I both have, a defense mechanism that goes a little too far, maybe.
We were also taught the importance of education. My parents were both in college, earning advanced degrees, while my brother and I were in grade school. My mom was a marine biologist, earning her master’s and my dad was earning his master’s in library science. I have to say, he was the coolest librarian I have ever known. My mom later changed to law and graduated from law school when I was a freshman in high school. So, education has always been a priority for me. After graduating from Tucson High School (go Badgers!), I went to community college then Northern Arizona University.
I didn’t graduate and took a break, not sure what I was really wanting to focus on. I took a big break. I met my first husband, Bronson, and we had a beautiful, angelic, over the top intelligent daughter, Alexandra. We were only married for 2 years and we remain friends. He went into the Army and we lived a few different places before he was deployed to Somalia, twice. After we separated, I went into the police academy for the Yuma Police Department. My daughter was two years old then and my divorce was final while I was in the academy. While working as a police officer, I met my second husband, Andy. He’d already been an officer for 3 years when I started and he had two sons. There were a lot of tough times from the beginning and maybe I should have retreated…but then I wouldn’t have the most amazing son in the world, Brennan. My kids have been my support and my champions throughout my journey.
I started working as an officer late in 1994, my father was diagnosed with cancer shortly after that. He was stoic and stubborn. He didn’t want to see the doctor. By the time the cancer was found it was really pretty advanced. He did the surgeries, chemo and radiation, but the cancer came back. He died at home, with hospice in December 1996. My brother left the Coast Guard to come home on a hardship discharge and never went back.
My ex husband and I were married the summer before my dad died. It was truly a blessing to have him walk me down the isle. I remember it and anyone who knows me can tell you that says a lot because my memory is horrible. We had a great wedding that was supposed to be super small, but we also had unbelievable friends that started doing things for us and the wedding got bigger and bigger. It was still super small, but it wasn’t at the courthouse. It was just a really great time with friends and family. I danced with my dad and watched him dance with my mom. It was beautiful. It was the last time my dad danced.
Life was renewed when my son, Brennan was born the following summer. He was a handful, adorable and incredibly entertaining. It was hard but I was finding happiness again, slowly. Ali and Brennan healed me. Not long after Brennan was born I made the choice to leave the department and stay home with the kids. I don’t think anyone believed I was really going to do it, even on my last day they were joking with me. My sergeant called me Xena and kept telling me I could still change my mind. Nope, I said. Not gonna happen. I loved my work. I really loved it. But I loved my kids more and work is work. So, I left. It wasn’t long after that my ex said he wanted to go to law school. THAT was a surprise, and it remained a sore spot. We had thought long and hard about going down to one income, then here he comes with the law school thing. Long story short, he duped me into coming to Michigan, which would never have been my first, or last choice of places to live. We moved in April and it was beautiful. We went to Lake Michigan and camped with new friends. We fell in love with Michigan….until November. It snowed so much that year! I woke one night to this engine sound screaming down our street. There were snowmobiles going down my street!! I was truly pissed off. I slowly got over it and started to enjoy the snow. It helps when you have little kids. We went sledding all the time and had hot cocoa when we came in. I enjoyed watching the kids have so much fun in the snow. Now I love Michigan, I just hate the clouds. Man, it is never sunny. This Arizona girl needs her sun.
Once here, with my ex in school I decided I needed to go back to school too, finally. I knew I couldn’t be a police officer here. I would never want to get out of my car in the winter time. I got stuck on some serious calls in the middle of winter nights in Arizona and it was too damn cold. There’s no way I could tough that out here. I was a substitute teacher for a little while then went back to school for nursing. I had always been interested in being a nurse midwife. I had my son with a nurse midwife and would have had my daughter in a midwifery clinic, but the insurance wouldn’t cover it. Becoming a nurse midwife was my new goal. We lived in on campus housing, got our food from the food bank and busted our butts through school. The kids made good friends in a great school district so, by the time we graduated, we couldn’t go back to Arizona. It was better for the kids here. It was a much better environment for them.
This was a very difficult decision. My mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer while I was in nursing school and the original plan, coming to Michigan, was to return so my ex husband and mother would have a law practice together. Our decision to stay in Michigan angered my mom and I don’t blame her for that. I was actually allowed to graduate early because, at the time, it was looking like I would have to go home to take care of her. She ended up going into remission and we stayed. My ex husband started his law practice and I learned that nurse midwives don’t have a lot of employment opportunities in mid Michigan. There are pockets of state where there are job opportunities, but it’s nothing like Arizona. I changed my focus and worked in the emergency room for 5 years. I loved the work and the patients, but it can burn you out quickly. I also taught clinical rotations for a nursing college. That was very rewarding and I have had some great students. Not long after being in the emergency room, my mom’s cancer came back. Once again, I planned on having to go home to take care of her. I was there for her second surgery and stayed for a few weeks. It was so hard to leave her. My brother was still there, but I felt like I needed to be the one to take care of her. I just couldn’t uproot everything we had in Michigan. I begged my mom to come live with us. She planned on it and even moved a lot of her belongings out here, but then changed her mind. I’m not sure what caused it, but it was most likely her fear of leaving my brother alone. It was a tough time, very emotionally charged every day.
We began to work through a lot of it and my mom was getting better. It was so difficult because 2 rounds of chemo and the losses she had experienced changed her drastically. She was a beautiful and strong woman. She didn’t forgive easily, which is part of why things were difficult with us for so long. I’m just grateful that we were so close again before she died. It was a sudden, unexpected, incredibly horrific loss when she died. She was in her second remission when she and my brother were in a car accident. He was uninjured, but he had to watch our mother die. There are wounds in my brother’s soul that have yet to scar. I can’t imagine the pain the he feels. When I think about it, I lose my breath and I wasn’t the one there, helpless. I still feel so much guilt over not being there. I lost myself for a long time after my mom died.
Not long after my mother died I had the BRCA testing done. We had planned to do it before, but just didn’t get around to it in time. I’m positive for the mutation to the BRCA1 gene. It was terrifying. Yet, here I sit after my prophylactic mastectomies and breast reconstruction, having faced countless (okay I think the count is 10) surgeries, thinking that I’m finally finding my true self. I’m discovering what’s inside of me, what I have that’s going to get me through: my inner strength and the belief that being positive, living a positive life, the strength my parents gave me, and the strength my children give me. I’m discovering who I am, slowly but surely. Discovering the genetic mutation has not been a curse. I’m on a path where mistakes will be made. One mistake I’m acutely aware of is that I tend to withdraw from friends when I am under stress and stay very close to home. This is something I need to work on. I’m on a path where great learning will take place. I have been given the opportunity to connect with similar women to offer support. I’m also presented with a challenge to rise up and be active in issues involving BRCA mutations. I’m on a path that provides a chance for me leave a positive light behind in this world when I am called away.