Tomorrow, November 14th, my daughter goes back to school after her tonsillectomy, exactly one year from the day I had my tonsillectomy and the doctors found the tumor.
The Universe has a strange sense of humor, sometimes.
Last November 14th, I had four days left of blissful ignorance of not-knowing. In my heart, I was pretty sure I knew, but there was still the chance my heart was wrong.
So, a year ago I was living out my last pre-cancer days, and it's got me thinking about how my life has changed. How I've changed.
I say my last pre-cancer days, because I understand, now, that even if I stay in remission for the rest of my life, that I am forever changed by the diagnosis. Cancer is no longer a death sentence, thank God, but it is a life sentence, of sorts. Because once you've had cancer you are never the same again.
I looked back over the past year and a huge part of me didn't understand how we got through it.
Then last week I was searching through some pictures - looking for photos for Finn's birthday video - and I found some memories I had forgotten about. Things that at the time I swore I'd never, ever forget.
There was the one taken the day I had my feeding tube put in:
I was scared and feeling about as low as I had during the whole cancer ordeal that day. I was on the verge of tears, full of fear, and my cell phone beeped that I had a message. Heather and some amazing friends had put together this video for me. It arrived - quite literally - just exactly when I needed it
There was a picture taken of my neck at the worst of the radiation:
I remember I chose not to post this at the time it was taken, because even I didn't want to acknowledge how badly I felt (the white bits are pieces of a compress I had on it to cool it down).
As I found myself staring, awestruck, at this picture, I remembered exactly how I got through it.
I was supported by so many people - friends who brought meals, gave rides, the unflagging support of my mother, even in the early months of adjusting to life without my Dad. Steve's steadfast and loving presence, constantly asking: what can I do? what do you need? Help from amazing, loving babysitters that took care of my kids just like I would have. Maybe even better.
And then, of course there were the kids. Their certainty that I would be okay, because I had to be okay, fueled my strength to fight when I could, and let go when I should. They were constant "you can do it" cheerleaders. Kids have such a pure way of processing difficulty, and it rubbed off on me, helped me fight the battle one moment at a time.
There were some pictures of the little notes Greta would leave me in my prayer box, to lift my spirits and give me strength during the worst of days:
Finn and Greta, with the help of a babysitter (Hi Lindsey if you're reading this!) made a pillow case with their picture on it, and colored it with loving messages and words of hope
Lindsey and the kids also put together a scrapbook to cheer me up:
When Lindsey went back to college, I was scared that everything was going to fall apart, because she left just as my treatments were getting really tough. But the Universe was still smiling on me, and along came Nikki, who was just as fabulous as Lindsey and cared for the kids every afternoon for weeks:
Nikki and the kids
And then there was "the chart"; a spreadsheet Steve put together (complete with graphics) to track my medications, my mood, my pain scale, my food intake and my, er, regularity (yes, that is a poop giving a thumbs up you see there in the upper right hand corner):
That's how cancer changed me the most. I evolved from someone who had to fight all her own battles, be in control of as much of her life as she could (even though I would have sworn to you on a stack of Bibles that I was not this way), to someone who was humbled and grateful for the all the love and support.
I admit, I fought it at first. I didn't want to be the sick person, who couldn't care for her family, cook a meal or drive herself.
Once the pain and fatigue kicked in full force, though, I was overcome with gratitude. There is NO WAY I could have gotten through everything without all the support.
One last picture, taken last Thanksgiving. I knew I had cancer when this was taken, but that week we had heard the words "treatable and curable", and so we were filled with hope, despite the underlying fear. I look into our faces and part of me thinks: thank God we didn't know what was coming. But another part me looks back and thinks: you have no idea, yet, how many people love you and your family. You don't appreciate, yet, how lucky you really are.
Today, I do. I know how lucky we are. I live more in the moment than I ever have, even though it took a boatload of fear, anxiety and resistance to get there.
I think this quote sums it up well: