Two years ago I was told those dreadful words: you have cancer. Our lives changed pretty dramatically on that day and over the next couple of weeks as we learned the extent of what we were facing. To say it has been a roller coaster couple of years is putting it lightly. It's like we've been on a rickety wooden roller coaster without any safety constraints. But we're still holding on. And occasionally it's even fun (as roller coasters and life tend to be).
In the past two years, I've been bald twice, endured four surgeries and countless gallons of medicine pumped into my bloodstream. I've lost my fertility and my eyebrows. And my breasts. I've raised nearly $20,000 for the Avon Foundation for Women to fight breast cancer and I've met some pretty incredible people who probably wouldn't be in my life but for cancer. So it hasn't been all terrible.
That doesn't mean I don't still cry when I hear about a friend's colleague who was just diagnosed with leukemia and has to spend five weeks at a time hospitalized and away from her young children. Or when a woman one friend described as our "cancer-land ambassador" entered hospice last week. I cry more now than I ever did pre-cancer.
I've learned a little about empathy over the past twenty-four months. I've also learned that it's okay to experience all these emotions, so long as I can find my way out of them pretty quickly. So long as I don't linger in the fear, the grief, the sadness.
I've also learned that living with incurable cancer means we've never quite arrived at the “new normal” that people talk about post-treatment. I still have scans every three months (in fact, I have a PET scan and a brain MRI tomorrow. Fingers crossed, please.) I still come in for treatment every three weeks. I still think about cancer more days than not.
On the other hand, life goes on, and it's better if you join in on it rather than swim around in your own head full of anxieties and dread. Those can get to be awfully dark waters--at least in my head--and it can feel like you're drowning in them.
My boys are my lifesavers. They pull me out of those dark places every time. When I whine to Chris that I'll never get to wake up again without cancer in my life, he says: "But you get to wake up again."
Speaking of life going on, of getting out of my head, of going to a place that just about never gets dark, at least not this time of year, we just spent a week visiting my brother and his family in Fairbanks, Alaska.
We took the train into Denali, which just about blew Quinn's mind.
We spent a significant amount of time outside, which always makes me feel more alive.
Quinn approved of the cabins.
That's my brother and nephew, on the left. My boys on the right. Good looking crew, no?
And this is the view out my brother's window at 11:45 p.m. Yep, almost midnight and the sun was just setting.
On the way home from Alaska, we stopped in northern California to check in on my mother-in-law. At her house yesterday, I stumbled across an AARP magazine and an article about a woman who was diagnosed with Stage IV gallbladder cancer and given three months to live. That was more than five years ago. She is thriving today. Doctors can't quite explain it. The woman said she lives by a line in Lance Armstrong's book It's Not About the Bike that goes something like: "If you can move, you're not sick."
Physically, most days, I don't feel sick. Two years in, and we're still moving. Here's to many, many more cancerversaries.