cancer

The Journey

I have a woman-crush on Emily McDowell.  She’s the genius behind a small empire that started out with greeting cards that perfectly express those thoughts that occasionally swarm in my head.  One of my favorites simply says:

When life gives you lemons, I won’t tell you a story about my cousin’s friend who died of lemons.

That one always makes me laugh-snort.  It’s quite possible that you need to live through a cancer diagnosis (and the accompanying real-life stories of deadly lemons that people feel compelled to share) to appreciate the real humor in that card.

Another favorite is her frankly stated, ‘Let me be the first to punch the next person who calls your cancer diagnosis a journey,’ card.  Yes, please!

A journey conjures up images of exotic excursions, delightful jaunts or some wonderfully pleasurable trip.  Calling cancer a journey seems a banal attempt to romanticize the unromantic.

Cancer is not a journey.  Cancer is an acid forced down your throat.  An acrid stench enveloping your every sense.  An explosive fire burning all around you leaving you running, gasping for air.  The lucky ones find an escape route.  The others….

If we feel compelled to find a journey in all of this, let’s follow the slow ascent back to some semblance of normalcy – or the new normal as I begrudgingly refer to it. Because, from the moment your life is turned upside down by the realization that you have cancer (fucking cancer), you never return to normal.  You are always aware that some awful creature burrowed its way into your sacred space and stole your peace.  And he can do it again.  

My new normal, my journey, is about learning how to keep that cancer creature at bay.  It’s about learning how to quell the chaos in my brain that screams, “No, don’t eat that.  No, don’t drink that.  No, don’t smell that.  No, don’t use that.  No, don’t live like that because maybe, just maybe, that will give the creature new life.”

My new normal, my journey, involves an unyielding determination to do life;  to say yes because saying no only emboldens the creature.  “Yes, I will go to Las Vegas.  Yes, I will run a half marathon while I’m there.  Yes, I will raise $3,000 for Sparrow’s Nest.  Yes, I will take that new job.  Yes, I would love to explore that hidden garden with you.  Yes, I will gladly hike Shades of Death Trail with you.  Yes, yes, yes….or, more appropriately stated, FU cancer!”

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Walking Papers

My chemo-day friend got her walking papers today.

We’ve spent much of this year keeping each other company, getting to know each other on such a personal, intimate level.  I still have the trashy novel she gave me when we first met.  “Read it,” she said, “It will keep your mind off of this place.”  And while she slept on and off through her treatment, her sister-in-law quietly shared her uncertain and ever-changing prognosis with me.  Sometimes, self preservation kept me on the opposite side of the room.  Other days, I felt an incredible urge to seek her out, sit beside her and spend my time talking with someone who got it.

It seems outrageous to admit that I don’t even know her name.

Despite that fact, the news of her ‘clear scans’ made my heart happy.  I wanted to hug her today!  Instead, I grinned as we conspiratorially whispered about “getting the hell out of here.”  And when her medication made her drift off to sleep, I slipped a note in her bag – “Happy Bell Ringing Day My Friend!  May there be many happy, healthy days ahead.”  For both of us.

Seeing Ghosts

A Girls

Anita. That was my mother-in-law’s name. Technically, she was only my mother-in-law for two months…and then she died.

I saw this picture posted on someone’s wall yesterday. It reminded me of her.

My husband and I woke up yesterday to realize that it was her birthday. We are not good with birthdays. We never remember anyone’s birthday. It’s a terrible trait. But, yesterday we remembered.

Yesterday’s blog was appropriate for my mother-in-law’s birthday. She was a good soul. A really good soul who endured a really horrible death. She died of cancer. Originally, doctors found a tumor in her brain and soon after, the cancer was in her lungs. Technically, I suppose it was lung cancer that killed her…. and she never smoked a day in her life. If ever a foundation or non-profit should have been formed in someone’s name, it was certainly her name. But we didn’t form a non-profit. We formed something better. Her namesake – our daughter.

Interestingly, I wrote yesterday’s blog before realizing that it was my mother-in-law’s birthday. It suddenly took on a new meaning when my husband needed to hear something comforting…

“Beautiful things come from beautiful people. Where do you think we got our two beautiful girls?”

It did give him comfort. Almost as though that post was meant for yesterday.

Later in the day, I took my oldest daughter to her after-school activity. I sat with a new friend. I never mentioned my mother-in-law to her but, for some reason, she felt compelled to tell me the story of her father. Nine years earlier, as he was getting ready for retirement, he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. He died.

That was a strange and heartbreaking coincidence.

Last night, after the kids went to bed, I checked in on my blog. I had another new follower. No, it wasn’t Anita. I suppose that would have been a bit too obvious. His name was Julian.

Listen. I am not a devout Catholic or a devout anything else. I don’t seek out palm readers, I have no interest in having my cards read and I don’t own a Ouija board. I simply pay attention. And when you pay attention, you notice things, you feel things and you know that there are sometimes people in the room that nobody else can see. Sometimes those people share a picture with you, sometimes they help you write a story, sometimes they tell you a story and sometimes, well sometimes, they just say a name.

Do I sound like a complete wacko yet? I hope not.

So, why was Julian significant?

My in-laws had a lifelong friend named Julius. Shortly after my mother-in-law passed away, Julius got sick and, he too, died a horrible death from cancer. When we were expecting our first child, we thought about the name Julius for a boy. It was an unusual name and we just couldn’t commit to it – even as a middle name. Instead, we settled on… Julian.

Are you paying attention yet?

Yesterday started out a bit somber. I wondered if I would be able to find anything happy to write about. And then, I paid attention and my mother-in-law showed up to make me happy.