Cancer treatment is a veerrrrrryyy, looooooong haul for all of us, starting the day we feel the lump, or see the look on the mammogram nurse’s face, or on the day we hear, “unfortunately there is bad news,” and ending well, honestly never, cancer is never-ending. Endless months of chemo and radiation, of reconstruction surgeries and expanders, long days waiting for the drains to come out or with rashy, itchy radiation scorched skin stealing our sleep and sanity. Days where life is ticked off in the number of chemo’s or radiations left, or in how many months till the port comes out; the days of cancer made exhaustively long by the mental uncertainty of just how many days may be left. Cancer continues in our lives forever, tapping us on the shoulder even years later. Never ending days.
A long freaking haul for sure. But the good news is, we are not alone.
Many people will come and go during our treatment, and will show up for the cancerthon in so many ways. Some people will be there at day one, but will be gone from our lives at the end of treatment; some will be there only during chemo, and some will be there for surgery. Some will show up with a gallon of milk on our doorstep one day, and some will bring us dinner every Friday night. And yes, a tiny yet golden handful will be there beside us for the whole journey.
When look back now, I realize how many nicks and holes in my life that cancer created; all the little places that cancer ate away at my life. But what amazes me most is how people always found ways to fill those holes; sometimes before I even saw them they found a way to find and fill them with just what I needed to continue forward in treatment. People who showed up with their own brand of fillers for my life, in all ways and means, all shapes and sizes. There were people who emailed me almost every day, becoming a lifeline where I could somehow spill things I could not say aloud, people who got my kids home from school safely even on days their own kid was sick and they didn’t have to go to carpool. People who went to bone scans and MRI’s with me and helped this major gag reflex girl get the goop you had to drink down beforehand and people who offered the perfect bible quote or other words at the right time.
There were people who walked with me every day, people who I could just show up in their yard as they were in the middle putting mulch out and say, “Can you go walk?” and who would drop the mulch, brush off their hands and say, “Yes, sure, let’s go.” People who mowed my yard and people who healed me with their hands and their intentions in yoga groups and through prayer. There were people who brought me blueberry pancake mix and syrup, people who said kind words at the grocery store and at school, teachers who were extra kind to my kids, and people who talked me down from the ledge on the phone in the middle of the night. People who invited me into their calm grandma like homes to let me soak up the soothe that is found in the quiet of someone old and wise sitting with you in a place that feels safe. People who for sure got me through, who kept me moving along especially when I just wanted to sit down and cry and stop moving.
Like a trapeze artist swinging lithely through the air letting go of her bar and flying to the next sure and strong catch of my wrists, so I traveled through the space of cancer. Certain that I could let go of the firm hold of the last person and fly to the next, not knowing who but sure that the next would be there; somehow sure I would feel with the greatest of ease, the strong catch of the next person on my wrists, just when I thought I would fall.
Much like a dot to dot journey, where I, the luckiest girl in the world, never got to the next place of need without a dot appearing in some way. I worked my way through the big picture of cancer, often not knowing what the next dot was, or who it would be, but with the calm that comes with knowing a dot would appear. Some days, admittedly I had to call out for a dot, but some days the dot just magically showed up at my door. The most important thing was not how it appeared, but that it appeared; that there was always a dot… no matter what. Even now, after five years as I continue to process and deal with the ick that is cancer, dots always appear whenever I need to process a fear, or figure out how cancer fits into my life now.
People will still say, “I feel like I should have done more for you when you were sick,” or, “I wasn’t there enough,” or even, “I wish I had known you when you were sick so I could have helped.” But that so not true. See, what’s important is just how darn lucky I was that a dot appeared when it did, even if just once, because that’s all that mattered. A million different dots got me through. A single dot, a single set of sure hands was all I needed to keep from falling that one day. Dots who appear now, even five years later are as crucial to my kicking cancer’s ass to the curb as dots in the thick of chemo. Every act on the part of another brought and still brings me peace in some way.
Besides, being my only dance partner would be exhausting at the cancerthon.
What I am thankful for is that you showed up for the dance, even if for a short spin on the floor. I don’t remember what you didn’t do or how well you danced, I don’t work that way; I remember what you did do, and that simply, you took time to dance.
As I have been known to do from time to time, I recently went to dig through old writings and emails and stuff from my time in Cancerland. It’s like looking at old photographs of vacations that remind us of just how we felt at the moment the snapshot was taken. In a pre-blog, pre-Facebook era, sending notes out en mass was the easiest way for me to reach everyone with updates about well, my mass and how it was doing. The note below (in italics) was written on Valentine’s Day 2006, a sinister yet softening tumor still deep in my chest, 8 weeks into some wicked chemo and just after I got my BRCA genetic testing back as negative; my future still very uncertain. I tried to hand deliver this note to the doorstep of as many as I could on that cold, cold February day, along with a little bag of Hershey kisses attached. What I most remember most when I now hold this snapshot of a tattered piece of paper, was how with each delivery, this great feeling grew in my heart, making cancer seem so small. I remember the sweet surprise of how good to my toes that act of gratitude made me feel, how essential it was to my healing; how it was the beginning of my grasping that cancer not only highlighted what you could lose, but more importantly, highlighted what you had…a dot at every dot.
That day, I learned to fill some of my own holes with gratitude. That day, I learned that gratitude was my safety net should I fall.
“Every act of love is a work of peace no matter how small”~
It’s Valentine’s Day and while many are reminded of romantic love, I can’t help but be overwhelmed and cradled these last months by the outpouring of gestures of the love of friendship that have come from so many people. It has shown up in so many shapes and forms. You can’t know the quiet peace your actions and prayers have brought to my life and to my sweet kids. It feels warm, like a blanket. Not to have to worry about carpool, food from casseroles to gallons of milk, play dates and driving to chemo. Having an ear who will listen intently with their soul on some very dark days, who won’t hang up until I am back on my feet. Cards and gifts and emails and walks that sustain me. Sounding boards to the quiet fears that can creep up on you when you are fatigued. Calm words of confidence and outright cheerleading offered by all of you. People who have allowed me the platform needed to continue to do what I do best, and heal from cancer. This is indeed a tough battle but one that between me and my army of friends will be won.
These gestures are the shape and color and texture of love and abundance in the world and each of you has found the most unique and heartfelt ways to express your love to me and my family and I thank you.
I have to share the joy with you that the positive energy and thoughts are working. The tumor is shrinking! (I like to think the cancer is running from my evil eye; “dying is not an option remember” and I have absolute confidence that I will be healed. I tested negative for the breast cancer gene mutation, and they are looking a lumpectomy, not mastectomy as the choice. I have about ten more weeks of big gun chemo, then surgery, then radiation. I can do this; it has been talked down to size.
I maintain that I am lucky that this presented itself in my life when it did. The gifts and messages that have been revealed even this early in the journey have been pivotal. The clarity that comes with cancer forces one’s experience of the world and people to bump up a thousand notches or so and it has indeed already done that in my life. I cannot wait to live the rest of my life with this perspective.
They say, “Step out and the net will appear.” I had no choice but to step out and boy did my net appear! It is comprised of the faces and hands and words of each and every one of you who have given to me and my kids in your own way.
What a strong village I have and I love you and thank you for being there again and again.
Happy Valentine’s Day!