Wednesday, August 7, 2013

"The One About August 8th"

Until now, I have never thought about what I would write on August 8, 2013, or even if I would write at all. That’s probably because I just write about what I’m feeling in the moment, and the moment of August 8, 2013 hasn’t arrived yet. But tomorrow, it will be here. Three hundred and sixty-five days after my diagnosis. Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes, if I remember that song from Rent correctly.

Well, crap. What do I even say about this one year mark? No idea...and now I have that song stuck in my daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cu-ups of coffee, in inches, in miles, in laughter in do you measure, measure a year? Now I’m just procrastinating.

Until tonight, I never realized how helpful it can be that our culture tells us how to celebrate or commemorate certain annual holidays. All of those smart people before us figured out that we should watch fireworks on July 4th, put gifts under the tree on December 24th, play pranks on April 1st, and dress up in costume and beg for candy on October 31st (or at least, that’s part of the culture that I grew up in). Those geniuses even told us what to do at particular life milestones -- put the tooth under the pillow, initiate the proposal with a ring, escape for a vacation with your new spouse. We know the song to sing on birthdays (although I seriously think we should all lobby for a new one) and … OK, you get the point.

My question tonight is, seriously, what the hell am I supposed to do tomorrow? It’s a day so powerful and so meaningful to me that every time I think of it, I get an immediate rush of adrenaline. It’s also a work day. A Thursday. A summer day. A regular day to most other people. There are no generally accepted rules for August 8th. Perhaps I should just copy from one of my favorite holidays; take out the dozens of hospital bracelets that, for some odd reason, I have kept from the past year and scatter them all over the back lawn. I could invite the neighborhood kids over with their baskets to pick them up. But then again, the plastic bracelets aren't exactly sweet treats.

I’d imagine that a lot people have these sorts of issues, and for many people, they are so much more significant and painful than mine. For instance, in all seriousness, August 7th would have been Ashley’s 27th birthday. How is her family supposed to “celebrate” that? Knowing them, even just a little bit, I'm sure they found a beautiful way to. But I'd imagine that it was horrendously difficult, in small part because there really isn’t much guidance for these types of things.

So what do I want to do tomorrow at this one year milestone? Well, logistically, most of my day is already accounted for. I have work, and our makeshift “Bring Your Kids to Work Day” is tomorrow morning. That means I won’t be alone on the train; I’ll be sitting in traffic in the "HOB" lane with Brian and the kids. Once we arrive at my office and order lots of Dunkin' Donuts, they’ll get a chance to run around the office for an hour doing the little Treasure Hunt we prepared. I can't wait.

After the kids exit (tumultuously, I'm sure), I’ll work and have lunch with some of my favorite people and work some more. At the end of the day, Brian will pick me up and we'll sneak in a dinner-date while the kids eat tacos in Southie. Pretty sweet deal for all of us, if you ask me.

But what about that other time, particularly, my early morning hour? Should I start some sort of personal tradition? Should I sleep as late as possible? Should I get up to write? I have absolutely no idea. I think I'll text Brianne and see if she wants to go for a walk. But she has a new baby and it's supposed to rain. We'll play it by ear (or "by year," as I used to think the saying went).

Maybe I’m giving all of this way too much thought. Or maybe another date deserves my attention. Should I instead celebrate my “One Year Cancer Free Day”? But when is that? December 27th, my last day of chemo? Or since the chemo worked its magic for weeks after that, is “the day” sometime a few weeks later? Or, wait, maybe it's September 12th. Yes! That’s the day the real killer was extracted from my body. But then again, it’s that stupid HER2 protein we need to stop. So tumor or no tumor, Herceptin is the key. So maybe the real "one year" point is the day of my last Herceptin treatment, which isn’t until the end of October. Urgh! Not to sound like a lazy high school kid in math class, but Someone please give me the answer!

Too bad there aren’t any answers. Which makes me think of this A Word A Day quote I loved from this week:

As I grow to understand life less and less, I learn to live it more and more. 
~ Jules Renard, writer (1864-1910) 

I like that quote. It’s a good August 8th quote, no?

But I can’t just rely on a quote. Not tonight. That’d be cheating. Quotes are what I post on my lazy days when I have nothing that is bursting to be written. But there’s so much that is bursting to be written tonight. I just don’t know exactly what it is.


I always find it really interesting when people tell me that something I wrote "inspired" them. I wonder what they mean, mostly because sometimes I say the same thing and I don't really know what I mean. I could never ask them, because I'd sound like I'm fishing for a compliment, but really, I'm curious. Did it make them think something like, Well, shit, I won’t complain about my bad haircut anymore. Or maybe, Damn, that sure sounds like it sucks. To be honest, that’s probably how I would respond (internally) if I were on the other end of many of these posts.

Despite that I really do interpret those comments as some of the kindest that I've ever received, until just recently, I would usually respond to them by thinking to myself, How in the world is this impressive? What would be impressive is if I chose this. But this was just thrown on me! So really, I’m just dealing with it. Like someone deals with wiping dog poop off their shoe. But thank you so much, anyways! Lately, however, I've realized something a bit deeper about the "dealing with it" part. No, I haven't come around to thinking that cancer smells like roses. It still just smells like dog poop.

Long before this post, I realized that at some point in our lives, we all have to deal with something awful, something we never would have chosen. Granted, the degrees of awfulness vary greatly, and from my personal experience, I can only understand those degrees that have some hope at their core. I know that I am blessed with that hope and I have the deepest sympathy for people who don't. But even with hope, we can still end up in a dark cave. Alone and shivering with fear.

When that happens, everything we built aboveground crumbles. We can't eat or sleep or work or even carry on a conversation that we'll remember. Breathing becomes an overwhelming chore; laughing a near to impossible one.

It's a really, truly terrible series of moments; watching everything we created so thoughtfully for years fall to pieces. But in retrospect, it's a pretty awesome series of moments, too. Because as cliche as it may sound, that's when we find our foundation, our core, ourselves. We always believed that our family members would hop on planes or drive hours and hours just to sit with us, but in our state of devastated shock, we see them actually do it. Amidst the heap at our feet, we realize once again why our best friend really is our best friend and we see that old friends and new ones care about us just as we care about them.

When everything above the surface falls apart, we see what's beneath it. We realize how safe we feel even while we're bawling into our spouse's t-shirt. We see how brave we can be in front of our kids even if it's all an act. We see how much our loved ones would do to save us; how much we would do to save ourselves.

When we get betrayed by our bodies, we have to start over -- rebuild our relationship with our own cells so that we trust them again. We have to reexamine things that we took for granted; things like our boobs or our ability to have children or our next birthday.

One year ago, both before and after the word, cancer, I was very blessed. The foundation upon which I stood was very solid. I had an incredible support system, a job, good health insurance, access to some of the best hospitals and treatment therapies in the world, a healthy body and mind (except, of course, for the cancer and mild anxiety), and countless other reasons to be happy. I know that it's not like that for everyone. I know that I can sit here and write because I don't need to leave the house for a second job so that my kids can eat lunch tomorrow. I know that a lot of HER2+ women will never get Herceptin and that I'll get mine next week. Life definitely isn't fair.

I admit, part of me wants to cry at the thought of August 8th because I feel so proud and so grateful for how I've been able to live -- not just survive -- over the past year. But I also know that it's only because of all of the people that helped me build a solid foundation for 32 years before that -- starting, of course, with my parents -- that I was able to rebuild everything that felt like it had crumbled. And somehow, the rebuilt version feels even better than the one that cancer knocked down.

Oh, and I have better boobs. 

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