It's funny how themes emerge in my life. Most often, they seem to come in little clusters. Snippets of information repeat themselves a few times in a short span and then - poof! - they're gone. For example, a couple of weeks ago I heard from two different sources in the span of a few days that cooking with olive oil renders it carcinogenic. I cook with olive oil maybe eight times a week, so I was a little worried. Worried enough that I checked with the Livestrong Foundation, whose chief scientist responded, "That's hogwash." And here's the thing. I haven't heard a peep about the cancerous properties of olive oil since.
Sometimes, instead of the this-information-is-curious snippets, the universe bonks me on the head with big, overarching, live-your-best-life-now themes, and occasionally I need to be told more than once. In my high school senior yearbook, we were all asked to choose a quote to accompany our photos. At 17 years-old, I chose: "Every moment is enormous, and it is all we have." This message is ringing especially loudly in my ears lately. The universe - and my husband, almost daily - is telling me to live in the present. It's a theme in friends' Facebook posts and my therapy sessions, my yoga classes and conversations with other survivors about how to cope with the onslaught of emotions that emerge with a chronic illness. I realize this idea is nothing groundbreaking, but it's still an elusive task. I find myself thinking - Okay, now. Now I'm in the present. No, now it's now. Now again. - until I just sound ridiculous even to myself.
Like most toddlers, Quinn is big on routine. His evenings are pretty typical - dinner, bath, a few books, a bottle (still trying to eliminate the bedtime one), and then I usually put him to bed. About a year ago, after repeating them dozens (now hundreds) of times, I memorized "Time for Bed" and "Wynken Blynken and Nod," so now I repeat one or the other to him as I rock him while he finishes his bottle. When he's done, he pushes it away and turns into me, curls up with his head in the crook of my shoulder for just a moment, long enough for me to tell him how much I love him and kiss his forehead a few times. He's old enough now that when I ask if he's ready for bed, he says "Yah," and starts to wriggle out of my arms. I lay him down and - every night - wish him sweet dreams, remind him I love everything about him, and promise him I'll see him in the morning.
Some nights, I'm struggling to hold back tears as I hold my beautiful boy. Would I be this emotional about tucking him in if I'd never had cancer? Do other parents breathe in the scent of their child's hair like it could be the cure they desperately hope is right around the corner?
Balancing the idea of staying in the present with the other common advice from survivors - to continue to look forward, to make plans for the future and set goals - is a constant tightrope walk. My new therapist (a godsend provided free through the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center) says that anxiety most often arises when we think of the future, whereas melancholy and sadness surface when we're reflecting on the past. So now my task is to look forward without losing sight of the fact that every day - every morning I get to wake up with Chris and Quinn - is a little victory. It's like I knew what I was talking about when I was 17.