Saturday, December 31, 2016

So Long, 2016

A lot of people in my circles can't wait to see the end of 2016. And it's not just my circles, is it? By so many accounts, 2016 was a dumpster fire of a year:

So ingrained had 2016-cum-terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad-year become in our broader consciousness that it came to stand in for something larger than itself: 2016-ness. On Election Day, British writer Owen Jones captioned a GIF of a mushroom cloud: “Just how 2016 is 2016 prepared to be?” He added later, when the early results were favoring Trump: “2016 currently thinks there is ample 2016 to go. 2016 is currently saying ‘heyyyyy! Look how 2016 I can possibly be!’ ”

Other people are all over Twitter talking about celebrity deaths, which were exceptional in 2016, I'll give you that. George Michael, Carrie Fisher, Prince, David Bowie. Us children of the '80s grieved the stars of our childhoods. But every year, women I know and love are dying, too.

This year started out for me as so many Januaries have since my diagnosis, with the death of my friend and advocate extraordinaire, Holley. At the time, my nurse told me that deaths tend to spike in January, patients having held on through the holidays. Without giving it much reflection, I can immediately think of five other good friends of mine who died of metastatic breast cancer in 2016: Colleen, Amanda, Michelle, Lesley, Jody... And the mushroom-cloud GIF embodiment of 2016 doesn't seem that far-fetched.

Holley & me at the opening of A Story Half Told in NYC, in October, 2015, 3 months before she passed away

On the other hand, a hand I envision rising out of the ashes of the bomb that was this year, I can't close out 2016 without reflecting on what a miraculous one it was for our family. 2016 will always be the year I was told I don't have metastatic cancer. 2016 was the year I got to celebrate my 20-year high-school reunion and had my port removed after almost five years of chemo infusions. This year I got to see Quinn start kindergarten, learn to ride a bike without training wheels, and lose his first tooth. 

And this was the first holiday season of Quinn's life that I haven't constantly wondered if it would be my last. 

***

For the past several years, we've participated in a winter solstice ritual introduced to us by our friend Kaye. Some years, she hosts a gourmet, multi-course meal at her home, and over after-dinner drinks we write our wishes for the coming year on scraps of paper. We don't share our wishes with each other, though I suspect everyone in the room always knows what my wish for the coming year is. Some years, I was bald. (Hint: I never wished for hair.) Kaye would say some words about the significance of the solstice and the coming of the light, and we would all light our wishes on fire, unspoken, rising to the heavens to be doled out from there.

I've had some setbacks over the years since my diagnosis, but my wish always seemed to hold. I imagine it is the same wish of most people with a diagnosis of metastatic cancer. This year, we didn't get together with Kaye, but we had friends visiting from DC and shared our new tradition with them. We lit our wishes on fire on our back porch, laughing that some didn't seem to launch far from our patio table. Of course, I hope they still come true, whether they made it to the heavens or not.

The winter solstice was my in-law's wedding anniversary. My father-in-law died of metastatic pancreatic cancer in the fall of 2009, just shy of what would have been their 35th anniversary. Six years later, my mother-in-law died of complications from Parkinson's disease. Sometimes, when we light our wishes on the winter solstice, I wonder if my in-laws aren't still looking out for us, granting us another chance to wiggle a loose tooth or play Santa for our boy.

***

On December 23rd, I paused to remember that same date in 2011 when I was told for the first time that the chemo had worked and there was no evidence of disease. Earlier this month, I was officially re-staged. After a clean scan mid-month, my oncologist told me I'd probably been stage 2B. My sister-in-law commented that I was probably the only person ever to be happy about a stage 2 cancer diagnosis.

2016 was the year I got to wipe the slate clean and say I've probably been in remission since December 2011 -- 5 years now. While that number doesn't hold much meaning for me in terms of magical cancer milestones (I've seen far too many people recur after reaching five years "cancer-free"), I am in awe that I'm still here. I pinch myself nearly daily at the twist my life has taken this year, at the new chances I've been given. 

It was just the three of us -- Chris, Quinn, and me -- this Christmas, we spent it in our pajamas until dinner, playing with new toys and eating Santa's leftover cookies. It was a pretty perfect celebration of life and re-birth, even if we're not churchgoers.

Tonight, we'll ring in the new year and say good-bye to 2016 with some friends and champagne. I'll make a toast to what a crazy, mixed-up, sweet, miraculous, dumpster fire of a year it was. I'll hope for many more miracles in 2017. Cheers, my friends. I love you guys.

Photo by the exceptional Lara Agnew


2 comments:

  1. I am so glad you had such an amazing year in that way. So very glad. You are awesome Jen! <3

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