Riley walked into the kitchen just now as I was cutting butter into flour with a pastry blender.
“What are you doing?”
“Making pie. It’s my one year cancerversary today.”
“Really? That’s a thing?”
“Yes. Yes it is.”
It is very much a thing. I’ve been feeling the weight of it for a week or so now, as events remind me of things from a year ago. Thanksgiving – when I was blissfully unaware of what the next week would bring. The day after Thanksgiving – when I noticed an odd shimmering in the periphery of my vision on one side. The next day – when I discovered I had a small blind spot on that side too. Two days later – when I called the opthamologist and insisted I be seen because I had been on Google and was pretty sure I had a torn retina. The next day – when, all alone at the opthamologist, I was told that I probably had cancer. And then the next day, December 4th – when the retina specialist confirmed the diagnosis and it was official: I had cancer. Each day this week I’ve relived the events from a year ago, sometimes wistfully, sometimes with a chuckle at the total absurdity of it all, and sometimes with a profound and melancholy sadness. Today I had a doctor appointment right down the road from the opthamologist’s office. As I drove by the building I could see the place in the parking lot where, after just barely managing to hold my emotions in check in the office, I ran to my car and exploded in violent sobs. I remember it vividly – sitting there, with my head reeling and my heart breaking.
It’s been quite a year. Even without the other two rings of my three-ring health circus, it’s been a learning experience, to say the least. I read a quote recently from a woman who told her doctor, “I’m sorry, I just don’t know how to have cancer.” Obviously, it’s a different experience for everyone, but we all do have to figure out how we’re going to do this whole cancer thing.
So that’s really been the challenge this year: how do I have cancer? And how do I make it a part of my story without letting it become my story? I’m still working through it, to be honest. I’m still looking for that magic formula, but I think it lies somewhere in the tension between forgetting and remembering…
Forgetting. It’s nice when I can forget I have cancer. It means being free from the Kung Fu grip of fear. It means I can focus on other things and just go about my life like a regular person. And it means I get to stop being such a freakin’ hypochondriac – yes, sometimes things just hurt, and it doesn’t mean anything. Pain in your side can actually just be the ghost of burritos past and not metastatic liver cancer. Living in that hyper-vigilant, what’s-going-to-happen-next kind of fear is no way to live. Yes, a little forgetting is nice.
Remembering. I don’t want to totally forget, because to be reminded that you have cancer is to be reminded to live. To really live. Like you mean it, like it counts. Remembering I have cancer can lead to a sucker punch by fear, but it can also be a kick in the pants to do the things that really matter (and what’s with all the violent imagery? No idea. Guess I’m feeling feisty today too). Facing the fragility of your existence brings everything into laser-sharp focus. Suddenly the jerk who cut you off in traffic lacks the power to totally wreck your day. Because you don’t want to waste precious moments on dumb stuff like that, do you? No. None of us do. But we get so caught up in the minutia, the things that ultimately don’t matter. Remembering I have cancer redirects me – to live my life to the fullest, to be patient and gracious and kind to others, to be fully present in every moment, to do the things I want to do now instead of waiting. I told Rich a while back that I want us to go away for spring break this year. Someplace warm with a beach. You hear about people going on a tropical vacation when they find out they’re dying, and I thought – why wait till a bad scan to do it? Let’s go. Bring on the umbrella drinks.
So that’s where I’m trying to live these days: the intersection between forgetting and remembering. When I hit that sweet spot, it’s a good day. When I miss, it’s a less good day. Because really, every day we get to live is a good day. Some days are just better than others.
I have so much more I want to write about, but if I take any longer, my family will never eat dinner. And, I promised myself a martini when I was done, and I reeeeally want that martini. So I will just have to share my other thoughts and observations about this past year in a future post.
And that’s the other huge takeaway from this year: I have some incredibly wonderful people in my life. Thank you all for the support, prayers and encouragement. Your love has been such a powerful force in my life and my family’s lives this year, and we are so very grateful. I want to hug you all. And I just might, so consider yourselves warned.
But first that martini. Happy one year cancerversary.