A year ago I wrote an essay about Joel’s birth mom who died from breast cancer when Joel was six. A piece of it reads, “At night when my boys are tucked in and my husband sleeps beside me, my mind travels to the infamous “what-ifs”. What if our tragedy is right around the corner? When will disease, death, destruction invade our lovely routine of normalcy and joy? I know it happens. I see it.”
That essay was written months before my diagnosis. And when I got the “cancer call” from the doctor who preformed my biopsy, those “what ifs?” became “what now ?”s. What do you do with a breast cancer diagnosis when you have a two young boys who still need you to slice their apples, and skip with you to the park?
It started with a lot of waiting rooms, and a lot of waiting. It was doctors, and paper gowns, and blood work, and a port placement surgery, and chemo drips, and the unbearable fatigue, and darkness that invaded each molecule of me. It was listening to my kids laughing with other people who had the energy to chase them down the street, and swing them over cracks. It was being swallowed by the couch, and restless sleep. It was body aches, and baldness. It was the trading in of sexiness for sadness. It was moments of waking up in the middle of the night and remembering all over again that cancer was in my body. It was a surgery that removed the breasts that fed my babies. It was so much loss.
But it was also a rising up. An acknowledgement of this flicker of light that burned brighter in the darkness. It was this standing back in awe of friends and family and strangers who worked tirelessly to keep me afloat. It was the coming home on most days to find cards in the mailbox, gifts between the doors, and dinner on the porch. It was the buzzing of my phone with quotes and prayers to lift my spirits. It was my students holding the door for me, and carrying my bag. The woman who stopped me to tell me that I looked beautiful wearing scarves. It was the feeling of my son’s lips on my shiny head. And the realization of my husband’s unwavering strength. It was the calling on myself to feel it all — to dust off my faith. To surrender to the pain and fear. It was also a rising up.
I wrote that essay a year ago. And it’s been eight months since my diagnosis. Today, I rode on a tube behind a boat with my four-year-old. I was on a lake. The sky was clear. The sunshine was bouncing off of the water. We were surrounded by trees, and all of the signs of summer. I was laughing. His nose was touching mine. I wasn’t anywhere but there. This is survival. The being. The being right where you are.