It's 5am, and I finally give up on sleep and come downstairs to write.
I don't know why you need to know that. I guess I want to clarify that these are 5am thoughts. The writers and worriers and dreamers and poets and nursing mothers and insomniacs and perfectionists out there know what I mean when I say: these are 5am thoughts.
I woke up thinking about my Dad. About how profoundly I felt his physical absence this Christmas. I watched my brother's strong, capable shoulders as he carved the roast, and I thought: Dad. I counted the number of place mats and chairs we would need, and I thought: Dad. I sat in church and sang along to "O Holy Night" with tears streaming down my face and thought: Dad.
Christmas was beautiful this year. I didn't know what to expect - how could I picture Christmas without Dad? His spirit was everywhere, though. As we sat around the table, chatting and even laughing, as we opened presents, as I watched his grand kids play. I felt joy and sadness in equal measure; I didn't realize those two emotions could cohabitate so effortlessly together.
After everyone went to bed Christmas Day Eve, I sat and sipped my tea, took in the colorful lights of the tree and the presents piled everywhere, and thought: this is good. We are lucky.
I woke up thinking about my Dad for another reason: today I start chemotherapy. I didn't talk about it much on this blog - it wasn't mine to talk about - but my Dad was a cancer survivor. He had Lymphoma. It was confined to his spleen, so after his diagnosis the recommendation was to 'wait and watch'. When his spleen became too enlarged, it was removed, along with all his cancer.
As his daughter, I never felt truly scared for him, not really. I know now that he must have worked at not showing too much fear to his kids. It's possible, too, that maybe he didn't feel a lot of fear. I sit here waiting for my first day of chemotherapy and I'm kind of wondering when the fear will show up.
Maybe what he felt was gratitude, an appreciation for the small things, for what really matters. Maybe he had strong faith in his doctors, and in his God, and that kept him strong. Maybe he knew that pounding his chest and wailing about the unfairness of is all is a complete waste of time and energy.
My Dad never experienced radiation or chemotherapy, because the surgery extracted all the cancer. What he did experience - and I'm learning that it's the toughest part of the whole thing - was the waiting. The periodic scans he had to take - even after the surgery - at 3 months, then 6 months, then every year.
Ultimately, he died in a roundabout way from cancer; without a spleen he couldn't fight back an infection in his blood. I'm glad for him that he didn't know that day was coming, that he didn't have to endure months of a slow decline. He proudly wore his "Live Strong" bracelet, and I will always think of him as a cancer survivor.
He knew what it felt like, though, to be cruising along in life, only to glance at the appointment book, see scribbled at 2pm the next day "PET Scan", and think - oh yeah, cancer.
It changes you. It has to. I realize now that there is a Cancer Me. I never knew her before - how could I? If anyone even mentioned the word cancer to me before, my heart rate elevated and I broke out in a cold sweat. I could never, ever, have envisioned that Cancer Me is calm, determined and grateful. Cancer Me is also apprehensive - mostly because I don't know what chemotherapy will be like, how sick I'll be. It's new, and new things are scary. But Cancer Me doesn't spend a lot of time wondering about the future, if the treatment will work, if I'll beat this thing forever. Cancer Me doesn't lose herself to fear.
In this respect, Cancer Me is a lot like Recovery Me. Fear is toxic to me - even more so than the chemicals that will be coursing through my body later today. Fear makes me want to hide from myself, from my family. Fear is a dangerous trigger for me, and I have to treat it with respect. I have to acknowledge that it's there - of course it's there - but the only thing that is actually in my control is how I respond to it.
I'm totally powerless over the cancer in my body. I'm totally powerless over alcohol. The two things aren't that different, really.
So I look fear in the face, pay my respects, and move on. In hindsight, I can see how much fear governed my life before I got cancer: fear, ironically, of doctors, of getting sick, of getting freaking cancer.
I'm free of that now that I actually have cancer.
Recovery is similar to that, too. I spent so much time in fear of what life would be like sober - how would I live? How would I get through the witching hour? A party? - and once I was in recovery living smack dab in the middle of the thing that scared me most, I realized: I'm strong, I can do this, and I'm free.
I let Cancer Me and Recovery Me hang out together as much as possible. They have a lot in common.
I'm just along for the ride.