Sunday, April 15, 2012

On Second, And Third, Chances

Here we are again, I think.

My husband and I are sitting in the surgeon's office, staring nervously out the window.  We've been waiting for almost an hour, and the tension is unbearable.  Every now and then we shoot each other a smile meant to encourage, but it's a weak attempt.  We're both terrified.

We're waiting to hear the biopsy results from my surgery ten days ago, to find out if the cancer is gone, or not. We were told that we'd hear the results earlier in the week, but all week the phone didn't ring.  All I can think is that the surgeon put us off to give us bad news in person.

Finally, the door opens, and the surgeon steps inside and quietly shuts the door behind him.  His face is unreadable.

"Well, your pathology results are finally back," he says, neutrally.  Then his face breaks out into a huge smile and he says "there is no sign of active cancer.  It's the result we wanted. Congratulations."

My husband leaps up to shake his hand, and I quietly burst into tears.

Just like that, we're free.

~~~~~~~

On the drive home, I'm quiet, contemplative. I feel like an entirely different person, with my head uncrowded by fear.  Now I'm just a regular person driving home, instead of someone constantly thinking about her own mortality.

I think about second chances, and realize that I've been here before. When I got sober, when I finally wanted to be sober, I looked at life with the same fresh eyes. There was no such thing as an ordinary day in early sobriety; each day felt scrubbed new, every experience and interaction was tinged with a sense of wonder.  Here I am, doing this, and I don't want to drink, I would think to myself as I gave the kids a bath, or went to the grocery store. Everything ordinary was suddenly extraordinary.

I feel that way again.  So this is, in fact, my third chance. I woke up yesterday morning fixed breakfast for the kids, joked around, laughed.  I felt as light as air, free of the fear that has been tethered to my every thought for so long.

~~~~~

Just like with recovery, though, this is a lifelong thing I'm up against.  I will be an alcoholic for the rest of my life; the goal is to remain an alcoholic in recovery.  I will be a cancer patient for the rest of my life, too.  The follow-up is extensive for the first two years, every six weeks for the first year. Every three months for the second year, with imaging/scans done at least three times a year.  My surgeon told me I will see him at least once a year until he retires.

The goal is to stay a cancer patient in remission.

I am still in a fair amount of pain, and I'm still tired a lot.  And now I have an impressive 6 or 7 inch scar that runs down the left side of my neck; a permanent mark of the ordeal we've been through for the past six months.

Second and third chances do not come without leaving scars.

I treasure my scar, because it's a reminder to do something with life.  To treat each day like a gift, cradle it in my hands and appreciate its beauty, but also its fragility.  The ordinary truly is extraordinary, it just usually takes a cage rattling experience, like cancer, to really see it, to really feel it.

Last night I started to get a little cranky.  I was tired, it was late, and we hadn't eaten.  The kids were whiny, and I didn't know what to do about dinner   It was such an unfamiliar feeling - cranky - that it took me a minute to identify it.  I have been so full of fear for so long there wasn't any room for a frivolous emotion like cranky.   I found myself laughing at the very idea of it.

I hope to hold onto this sense of wonder as much as I can. But, just like with sobriety, I know the sheen will dull, and it will take vigilance to remember how it feels when you are newly back from the brink.  The trick is to carry enough of the fear with me that I remain grateful, but not so much that I lose myself to it.  The tools I have learned in recovery will help me with this:  look back, but don't stare.

Thank you, all of you, so very much for all your prayers, good wishes, gifts, cards, texts, emails, letters -- everything you have done to carry me and my little family through the past six months.  I don't know how I came to be so blessed, and I am so very, very grateful.



66 comments:

  1. That is wonderful news! Congratulations!!

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  2. So, so, happy for you and your family. You have been incredibly brave during all of this, something for which I greatly admire in you. You.did.it and there can't be a better feeling right now.

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  3. You are so incredible, Ellie. Such an amazing woman. I am so, so happy for you, and so glad I know you, even if it's just through these words. All my best. Love and hugs.

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  4. Such a lovely post. Reminds me of some things. Thanks Ellie!!

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  5. Oh Ellie,

    Congratulations! What wonderful news...

    I've felt this, the whole time, that you would be okay, better than okay. And that this journey will inform the rest of your journey, what you do with your days. You are so good at finding the gifts in adversity and at sharing them with others.

    I am honored to be your friend. And I hope, someday soon, to see that scar in person - we can have show and tell! And maybe some photographs.

    Sending you buckets of love, admiration and wishes for peace and ease in your life.

    C

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  6. Shoot, I had just put on makeup when I read this. Now I have mascara tracks.

    So happy for you and your family.

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  7. Wonderful news, Ellie! Congrats and hugs. One more huge obstacle in your rear view mirror. Keep on driving!

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  8. Two times a miracle. Doubly blessed.

    I shed my tears of joy yesterday. Today, I'm basking in the glow of the happiness and wisdom radiating from your words.

    ODAAT, my friend. ODAAT.

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  9. Oh Ellie, thank God. I'm so happy. I know you still have hard times ahead of you, but I'm so glad this was the news you got.

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  10. Oh i am in tears, ellie. Sooo happy. I am on my way in from shark toorh hunting with my fam...and i kept thinking of you. You krpt coming to mind. Now were in the boat going in and this is the first thing i see on my phone. :) ill send you what i found. Congratulations.

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  11. On the count of three, everyone:

    E X H A L E (yes, we were all holding our breaths, too)
    B R E A T H E (deeply and from the bottom of our depths)
    S M I L E (broadly, constantly, insanely)

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  12. So happy for you and your family! You are such an inspiration to the rest of us, if you can get through this with the grace and courage that you have, the rest of us can do it too.

    Enjoy some much deserved peace.

    Tricia x

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  13. I just started reading your blog and I've spent the last few hours catching up on your story. I'm so happy for you that you are in remission, and I hope that that is where you stay. Congratulations.

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  14. Oh, Ellie, I'm seriously crying as I read this. I'm so so happy for you!

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  15. Recovery and remission. Two beautiful places to be. Congratulations! I'm crying tears of joy/relief for you and your family.

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  16. Courtney in CreteApril 15, 2012 at 3:04 PM

    Oh, congratulations! I'm so very happy for you!

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  17. ellie, i don't comment often but i have read your blog for a long time. all through this cancer horror i have been thinking of you a lot; every time i bemoan my own lot in life i have thought of you and been pulled up short. i am so so glad things are good for you. you deserve it and, while that is no guarentee, it is magical that you will be ok.

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  18. I've been lurking for a long time but need to come out and say THIS IS WONDERFUL!!!!!!!!!!! I've prayed for you many times.
    Andrea from Michigan

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  19. Such wonderful news! A very big Congratulations to you!!

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  20. Yay! So happy for you :)

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  21. At a loss for words. That happiest most awe-struck grateful loss.

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  22. What joyful news! So happy for you!

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  23. Oh my goodness what wonderful news!

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  24. I cried as I read this. Loving you from afar and sending you so many virtual hugs! xoxox

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  25. Joyful, fabulous, wonderful news. So happy for you. Carpe diem ALWAYS!!!!

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  26. Hallelujah!!!! Ellie. I am so happy for you! XOXO

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  27. The ability to put fear in your rear view mirror is so exhilarating that it must be hard to describe. Reading your post I read the words and excitement of the old Ellie that we have come to know and care for during the past 6 long months. Treat yourself to some glorious relaxing moments and think about the upcoming trips to the seaside as a person who deserves the beauty of the wind and water after facing some serious challenges to your ability to enjoy many wonderful experiences.

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  28. ok- I have to say more. I had a crap day today. The shock of my diagnosis is wearing off and the fear got ahold of me today. I laid in bed and got overwhelmed, then had a mini-meltdown. Got myself up and went for a walk, came home and read this and the fear left me. I feel hope and peace. So happy you are ok.

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  29. So glad for this result for you and your family.

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  30. The best news I have had today, Ellie, for you and your family. Go with Peace and Justice.

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  31. Best news ever! I am so happy for you and your family. My SIL recently was diagnosed with cancer and I hope she has the same untethering of fear as you some day. xo

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  32. Joyful tears for a beautiful stranger who seems so familiar...oh, I'm not sure when my heart has leapt to my throat so quick, here recently! Your journey has been filed away, as one to look to should I or someone I know ever have to walk it. You've walked(and keep walking) with such grace and wit and beauty and raw-ness. You are a total testament to love and beauty and life. Thank you for sharing - you will always be in our prayers!

    Tricia

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  33. Beautiful news, Ellie! Thank you for sharing your brave journey with us!

    XO

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  34. And THIS is the best news I've heard in so long - massive congratulations Ellie, I'm so pleased for you and your family. Travel hopefully and happily x

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  35. I am so very happy to read your wonderful news. praise the Lord.

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  36. I am so happy for you and your family Ellie! And I love your words about looking back but not staring -- how powerful. Joanne

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  37. Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyy!!!!

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  38. Such wonderful news, Ellie! I'm so happy for you. You have shown such courage and strength. I know you will enjoy this beautiful sunny day today with your family - Val

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  39. Crying at my desk and smiling through the tears. Ellie, wonderful! And how great that you were able to laugh at yourself for being cranky. Thank you!
    Lee Ann

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  40. Ellie.....what can I say? thank you for sharing your chances and for being you. I'm beyond happy for you. So relieved. xoxo

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  41. Hooray, you!!!

    One more time: Hooray!!

    xo

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  42. I'm so happy for you. What wonderful news : )

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  43. Apologizing in advance for SQEEEEEE-ing on the internets. I am so happy, my friend. xoxoxo

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  44. Yesssss! I AM SO HAPPY!!! For you, for your family, for all your entourage of supporters, for me, for my cat who is sitting next to me. It was time for good news... and, though you are right about the lifetime business, believe me... at first... each check is a bit of an anxiety provoker and an exhale of relief, but after awhile... I visit more with the oncologist about summer vacation plans than about cancer. I actually look forward to going (every 4 months for me now) because I never tire of hearing "all clear!" This is such good news, Ellie, I'll be thanking God all day for answering all those (specific!) prayers!!! I'm delighted for you.

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  45. YAY!! So, so happy for you, Ellie!! I stopped reading at "no sign of active cancer" and said a little "oh, thank you, thank you, thank you" prayer. :)
    Sending you a big, big congratulatory hug!

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  46. Fantastic - I've just read this on Monday morning, and have a smile on my face!

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  47. I'm so happy for your good news!

    -Cara

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  48. Oh wow. I have been checking in on my phone for the last week or so, not having access to my laptop. And composing a reply about how we all seem to have a rose-tinted view of how we should respond to all setbacks with composed calm, poise and grace. But even Jesus begged God to take the cross away from him - prostrate on the floor, sweating (probably/possibly in fear, even)

    And then this news blows all that out of the water. And how grateful I am for you. And relieved. And happy. And trying to take some of *your* new awareness of the world and apply it to my own life - appreciating my four year old's cuddles, even when I am trying to work through the remnants of flu.

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  49. happiness doesn't begin to describe it. so instead I'll leap for joy in your honor.

    take that you stupid cancer!

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  50. Oh Ellie, I am beyond happy to hear your news it is all I can do not to cry and start telling my coworkers. I can see their patronizing nods already so I will hold it together and be just so very relieved and happy for you.

    XOXO

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  51. Enjoy being cranky, or irritable, or frustrated ... and enjoy the normality of those feelings. And being able to laugh at them - all the better.
    So thrilled xxx

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  52. YAY!!!!! I am so happy to hear this most wonderful news. You don't know me, but I am sending you the biggest mental hug ever right this second. Enjoy every moment of your newfound peace. You deserve it. Love you.

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  53. Sometimes the only prayer that can exist is gratitude.

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  54. What wonderful news! I am so happy for both you and your family. Thank you for sharing your journey with your readers and for reminding us that each day is precious.

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  55. BEST BLOG POST EVER. That is some great news, Ellie. Congratulations!

    All the best
    Lisa

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  56. Tears are welling up in my eyes. I am so happy for you, Ellie. And for your family.

    I am also originally from Massachusetts, so I feel like I recognize a lot of your "scenery." A dear friend of mine, a gentleman who just turned 50, was diagnosed at Mass. General with a cancer very similar to yours and went through everything you described...the face mask for radiation, the feeding tube, the fatigue. He's a rigorous athlete and requiring someone else to drive to and from his treatments is very hard for him. He's a few months behind you in the process and I hope he gets good news like yours in a few months. So what is my point...just that reading your very eloquent words helps me help my friend. So thank you.

    I think this calls for a virtual party. So I am throwing confetti and blowing horns for you. Happy Spring!

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  57. Congratulations Ellie! Still praying for you and your family. Enjoy the time!

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  58. I am so pleased for you!

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  59. Ellie,

    First let me say that I am twirling and doing the happy dance for you right now. I am kicking my heels up for you too!! I came to your blog through Heather at the EO. I want to thank you for sharing your journey with us. I have been sober for almost three years now. You need to know that you had an impact on my recovery. Your words helped Heather and Heather's words helped me. I was so alone. So scared. So ashamed. I remember reading Heather's post when I was about nine months into being sober. I will never forget the day I read her words. Your courage. Your strength. Your honesty has been like the pebble that has been thrown into the water. The ripples will never stop. So my thoughts and wish for you today is for you to be held. For you to sit with a cup of tea, coffee, hot chocolate, or a cold glass of lemondade and breathe in your life......your most amazing spectacular life. I thank you for sharing it with us.

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  60. What great, great news! I've been a faithful reader for some time now and have followed your journeys with recovery, weight loss, the loss of your father, and now cancer. I am so happy for you and can't wait to hear more about happier journeys in the days ahead.

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  61. Fantastic news! I read your blog all the way over in Australia & I as I read this I have tears of relief and happiness for you & your family. This will put a skip in my step today!

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  62. I hope you heard my cry of delight and felt my hugs sent all the way to Massachusetts from Georgia. God is good! I am so blessed to have you in my life. xo

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  63. Wonderful news! It must truly feel like a new chapter has opened for you. I hope you embrace it and never lose a sense of gratitude and wonder.

    I just read a story that might really inspire you -- this gal really hit rock bottom and now she's a force for (good) change. Enjoy: http://www.todaysstep.com/jan.html

    Best wishes,
    A

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  64. Such relief ..on so many levels. I know that you will still be living with this...but you will be living. I'm inspired by you. Happy for you and all who love you.

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