Not everyone has control...
When my cousin, Melissa, was 21, she had a bright, happy outlook on life. She was a college student who had already secured a good state job. She was not in ultimate shape, but she was healthy. As a shy girl, she had only just met her first boyfriend. She was optimistic about her future. She had always had vision problems, but by 21, it was getting progressively worse. Despite many visits to the opthamologist, no one was quite sure why.
Then, one day, her vision went completely dark while she was driving. She managed to safely pull off the road and call her mother for help. A Cat-scan finally revealed the problem. She had a benign, but growing brain tumor around her optic nerve. It had to be removed or it would kill her. I was 17 at the time.
Our mothers are sisters, and my father died when I was very young. I spent much time at my aunt's house while my mother coped with her own grief. I wanted siblings very much, but my cousins were the closest thing I had to siblings until I was almost 10 years old. Being that Melissa was a few years older, I looked up to her. My senior year in high school should have been an exciting time for me to plan my own future, but instead, I was facing the reality of the fragility of life, and the fact that youth does not make you indestructible.
The surgery was supposed to take around 4 hours. We began to grow nervous as it eventually turned into an all day event, but were relieved that she did pull through. Sadly, our fears continued to grow as she did not appear as we had expected. Her head was so swollen that seeing her in the hospital bed was frighteningly reminiscent of that 80's movie "The Mask". They only allowed two visitors at a time, and her younger sister and I visited her together. She was barely awake, her head completely shaven, a large, blood-clotted gash in her over-sized skull. We didn't know what to say, and her sister was struggling to hold in her emotions. Finally, I just put my hand on Melissa's and told her "We love you and we are here." Melissa nodded that she understood, and I helped her sister back into the waiting room so that the next set of family members could visit with her. We were still waiting to hear what went wrong. But the doctor had left for his vacation after the surgery.
The 2 to 3 weeks that she was supposed to need to recover turned into 2 to 3 months, and in that time, we learned that her tumor had actually been attached to her pituitary gland and all, but the stem, had to be removed. She would need to take steroids to replace the lost hormones for the rest of her life. After having fluid drained for the third time, the nurses at the hospital decided that she needed to get up and move around. They sent her down a hallway alone with a walker. Of course, her equillibrium was still off and she fell and broke her hip. She had only just turned 21.
The bright side to this story is eventually, she did come home, but the steroids had already begun to cause her to gain mass. That boyfriend that she had, had long since bailed on her while running up her cell phone bill. And thanks to the steroids, she would never have children, something that she had dreamed about as a girl. She needed counseling to help her come to terms with her drastically altered future. She sued and won for medical malpractice, and during the trial, the doctors only gave her a life expectancy of ten years after her surgery. They expected her life to end by the age of 31. Her mother was so proud when that anniversay came around and her daughter was alive and happy that she stood up and testified about her blessings in church.
Melissa was morbidly obese and her mobility was limited, but she had survived. She had a gastric bypass which ultimately made eating and digesting more difficult for her. She sought weight management and exercise programs that would work for her. She remained optimistic that one day she could adopt a child to raise as her own. The state had denied her because of her health, but a private adoption was not entirely out of the question. She had so much love to give and was always willing to share her unfortunate fortune with family and the less fortunate.
Melissa passed away in her sleep yesterday afternoon. She was 38 years old. She never had the family or future that she planned for herself. She was excited about recently losing 10 lbs and was planning a trip to Disney World next month. She NEVER had control of her situation concerning her weight. I am writing this with the hope that if someone reads it, they might finally understand why it is so wrong to judge someone for their size. You can't be certain if that person has actively chosen to be morbidly obese, or if their circumstances were just horribly tragic like my cousin, Melissa's. Her obesity was the hard price she had to pay just to spend another 17 years with the family that loved her. I write this to honor her memory, in the hope that it might change some minds and some hearts.
RIP, Sweet Melissa. 3-6-1974 to 1-27-2013