In a yoga class last week, my instructor brought us into eagle pose. She told us the story of Vishnu, the god who rode into battle on an eagle. "Feel your strength in this pose. By choosing this practice you are choosing to keep yourself alive." I honestly don't know enough about Vishnu's ride or battle to know what the correlation is here, but the idea that I could choose to live stuck with me. Of course I will keep myself alive. Back to that point in a minute.
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I was running late for work one day last week, one of the few mornings when I had a 9 a.m. call scheduled. As Chris and Bug were about to head out the door, I realized I hadn't put anything together for Quinn's lunch. As I yanked open the refrigerator door to look for inspiration, the bottom shelf fell straight off, sending an unopened bottle of wine crashing to the concrete kitchen floor. I mopped it up and picked up shards of glass as Chris microwaved some mac-n-cheese. Then as Chris threw the wine-soaked towels into the washing machine, I quickly diced a watermelon. I tossed in a squeezable yogurt, and my boys were out the door. This left me approximately 12 minutes to shower (so I wouldn't smell like a drunk), get dressed, and get on my way. Honestly, thank God for short hair and a casual office.
At a stoplight about 5 minutes from my office, I got an email that the meeting had been cancelled. At least I could stop driving like a maniac. As I pulled into a parking space in the garage at work, a woman whose car I've noticed before pulled in next to me. She has one of those breast cancer license plates. We were walking toward the elevator together and I asked her if she was a survivor. She said yes - six years now. Turns out we even have the same plastic surgeon. I mentioned that I was going to have my first follow-up PET scan this week and admitted that I was pretty anxious about it. (And that might be the understatement of the century.) She said she still gets nervous for her annual scans. Another friend explained that just as you've gotten past cancer and started to imagine the life you could live, you're reminded that things don't always go well. As cancer survivors, we know what it's like to get a bad result.
Chris reminded me several times over the past few days - as I broke down in sobs on the couch or felt sick to my stomach with anxiety - that worrying about it won't change it. He's right, of course, and so today, on the advice of another survivor, as I sat in the dark room waiting for the radioactive glucose to make its way through my veins before the scan, I visualized healthy cells. I imagined Quinn starting kindergarten and pictured our mother-son dance together at his wedding. I envisioned all of the positive energy of every one of you who has wished me well through this floating around me, enveloping me with warmth and light and hope. I breathed, and I meditated.
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Last week, maybe the same day I met the survivor in my parking garage, I received an email from an old friend (also a cancer survivor), letting me know that a former mutual colleague had passed away. She wrote: Amazingly, Peter told us last year that he knew he would die when he was 86 years old. Both parents and an elder brother had died at 86. When I expressed chagrin or doubt he’d say, “Dear, I know a little something about genetics, you know, and I’m telling you what I know.” He was either so smart, or so determined, or both, that he died yesterday, one day before his 87th birthday.
All of this to say that I've been thinking so much about mortality over the last year, and I absolutely love the idea that you have the power to choose when you leave this world, to choose life. This message was coming to me in so many forms over the last few days, just as I needed reminding: I am not leaving anytime soon.