I’m re-posting this piece quite simply because I find that when I re-read my pieces I find something new in them each time. Maybe readers will, too. Even though it was only written in November, I find it interesting to look back on what my mindset was then, only weeks of learning about my cancer metastases. The idea for the post below came from re-reading A bookmarked life. The idea that there are consistency, permanence, and predictability in the world is a mantra we simultaneously embrace and need while also knowing it’s patently a falsehood… everything is always changing, it just depends by how much.
Each day is different. Each moment, too.
It still seems surreal, this diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer.
It’s strange how quickly the horrific can become regular: the chemo, the side effects, the new routines.
Oncology appointments, I.V. infusions, medication refills all start to fill my calendar.
I start making lists of things I need to do. I prioritize them.
It’s not always about what’s actually the most important, it’s also about finding things that bring me small moments of joy.
The small moments are the ones that bring tears to my eyes. Tristan’s little voice saying, “I love you, Mama. You’re the best Mama in the whole wide world” is enough to make me misty.
I still lose my temper. I still yell sometimes. Often it’s misplaced anger, a manifestation of my frustration with my situation.
I haven’t suddenly turned into the world’s most patient person. Sometimes cancer makes me the most impatient one, in fact. I feel the clock is ticking. I don’t have time for nonsense. But that’s not a way to be. I will still try to be better.
I try to be the one to do things with my children as much as I can. Even if there is a babysitter in the house Tristan always reads to me at night for his homework: that is sacred. I still save artwork and photographs and remind them to brush their teeth and clean their rooms.
I try to do the little things: helping Colin with a school project, keeping Paige company while she does homework, watching a sports practice if I can. I go to the grocery store and I work on the holiday card. I still take pleasure in getting the stubborn stain out of Clarke’s dress shirt that the dry cleaner couldn’t.
My motto is that I will do as much as I can for as long as I can.
I don’t ever have a moment that I forget about my cancer. I think that’s the part about it being new. Even when I was diagnosed the first time — even after I finished chemo and surgery and all of it– it still took at least a year for me to be able to push the daily fear down. Of course now the fear has been realized. I am living it. I am living my nightmare, one many people share.
And yet, the morning comes.
I see the light of day and I get out of bed. I see the faces of my children. I kiss my husband goodbye when he leaves for work. Each day I have is a day that matters. Each day is one to make a memory with my family and friends.
Each day is one more than I had the day before.
But let’s be clear: there is no joy in this disease.
My appreciation for my days should not be interpreted as supporting the nonsensical idea that “cancer is a gift.” There is nothing positive about this disease; I would give it back if I could. I did not need cancer to show me the value of things. I always knew these things were true. I never took them for granted. I knew what demons could be lurking.
I did all I could. It was not enough to keep it at bay. But maybe, just maybe, I can keep it at bay for a while.
I still haven’t fully come to terms with what this diagnosis means, but that’s because there’s no real way to know. We don’t know enough yet. It is the uncertainty that is the most difficult part for me. Will this chemo be the one that lasts for a while? Will it fail? When? What next? How long with that one last? My body holds the answers, but it’s not showing its hand yet.
I have to learn to ride this roller coaster. I’m just not there yet. And I don’t really know how long that is going to take.
I walk past people on the street and know they have no idea what is going on inside my body.
People in front of me in line at the gas station don’t know there’s chemo in my purse.
I look like everyone else. I have hair on my head. I ask the checkout person to pack the bags light because I can’t carry anything with my left arm now (the cancer has fractured two ribs on my left side).
Sometimes I want special treatment. I want a Get Out of Jail Free card. Most of the time, however, I want to stay home. Hide out. Be invisible.
I’m still processing. Reeling. But while I’m doing that I’m living.