Well, here we are. December 31. End of this very long year. And my final lesson is one that’s been repeated a lot in different ways. We don’t get unlimited time. Not during the day, not during the year, not during this life. It’s something we all know, logically, but cancer has a way of making it personal and emotional.
I’m a doer and a helper. I need to feel like I’m contributing towards something meaningful. I like to be creative. I like to talk and research and write and teach. I also like to dress up. And I’ve done very little of any of these things this year. Sure, the cancer made it somewhat hard. But if I’m honest about it, I didn’t do a lot of it the year before either. I’m working on it though, and I plan to continue because it’s not just about doing what make me happy, it’s focusing on what gives me purpose.
I’ve written this blog daily this year because I needed to be intentional on finding gratitude during the difficult days. And I’m so thankful I did. It was important for me to find the sometimes small moments that got me out of my head on the hard days. And looking back, I had a lot to be thankful for. So many friends and family members supporting me. Such great medical care. A job that allowed me to be flexible with location and time. A husband who really took care of me. Pups that made me laugh. Cancer treatments that cured me. And in the middle of all that, I gained a son-in-law. I’m grateful.
Today I’m thankful for my in-laws. Every chemo day, Patrick’s parents have sent us something wonderful. The first treatment was a beautiful bouquet that I can’t believe I don’t have a picture of. I really thought I took one, but no. I do remember it well; it had seeded eucalyptus and soft lavender roses. It was so lovely. The last couple of treatments were edible arrangements. The first included brownies and the second included chocolate covered fruit. Yum!
The truth is, my in-laws are always very generous and giving. They’re eager to help or support anyway they can. But even more than that, they’ve been great at making me feel part of the family from the beginning.
I have to admit, when Patrick and I started dating, I had my fears. I’m older than he is by not a little bit. My kids were teenagers already. In fact, one of the first things I asked him when we got more serious was if he was sure he shouldn’t be dating someone younger. Someone who could give him beautiful babies. But he’s stubborn.
Then I got pregnant and had a miscarriage, and my fears grew. I hated that I was taking his option for his own family away from him. But he said it wasn’t a deal breaker. He’s dedicated.
And here I am, dragging him through cancer with me. One more hardship and difficult year of worry. But he’s been protective and supportive and says it’s just one more thing we will get through. He’s strong.
Through it all, my in-laws never expressed any doubt, at least to me, that I wasn’t anything but deserving of their son. They’ve happily included me in their lives from the beginning. I worried that they’d see me as someone too old and with too much history to be right for Patrick. But my worry was all mine. I guess I should have known for they taught him by example to be stubborn, dedicated, and strong. I’m thankful for them. And grateful to be part of the family.
I’ve been tired today. It was hard to keep focus as I found myself reading then rereading work emails. However, I made it through and took a late afternoon nap.
Sometimes when you’re dealing with a lot, it’s the little things that help the most. Coffee brought to you. A text from someone checking in. Playing in the snow with the dogs. Since my diagnosis I’ve had a friend who has been so generous with the little gestures. She made sure that my birthday did not go by uncelebrated. I stopped in my office that day and she had decorated it with all sorts of 5-0 stuff. Balloons. Streamers. A blowup walker. She even brought in cake.
Then the first few weeks in December leading up to Christmas, she dropped off a gift on my doorstep, each designed to put a smile on my face. Silly toys, a t-shirt, or socks and candy, along with a gift card to one of my favorite stores. And yesterday, on my first day of chemo, she dropped off this giving bear. I love the saying on its ribbon.
She’s been such a great support, and I’m not sure she really knows it. Her thoughtfulness is an inspiration to me. It’s comforting to know she’s on my side, and I’m so grateful to have her as a friend.
You guys! I wish I felt like celebrating. I am happy to report that today is day one of my cancer cure.
I had my first chemo treatment. I’m not going to lie; I was nervous. After almost two hours of blood draws and port flushes and anti-nauseous drips that took over half an hour to administer, my nurse, Sister Rose, came back into my room in a special blue gown. She donned not one, but two layers of gloves, and then proceeded to handle the chemo drugs that had been specially made for me when I arrived. The first ones were red vials. She said she had to manually push them into my port IV because she needed to periodically check the blood draw. This stuff is what is sometimes referred to as the red devil. I told her it looked like jello shots. While she laughed, I suspect she said an extra prayer for me today. After two vials of the stuff, I got another IV bag drip of a different kind of chemo. Both have similar side effects: nausea is top of the list, hence all the extra drugs; low blood counts, so I’ll go in tomorrow for a booster shot to help produce white blood cells; fatigue (already feeling it!); cardiac damage, which is why I had a heart test prior; and hair loss (my crowning glory!). There are of course a myriad of other things, like skin rashes and mouth sores and extremity numbness/tingling, that may come along.
But honestly, right now, I’m just thrilled to have made it through. So far so good. I entered a clinical trial for added nausea medication; maybe I got it, maybe I didn’t. Either way, things are working. I’m tired but I’m now 1 down, 15 more to go. And I’ll handle things day by day, grateful for a cure.
Today was my first day back to work since December 24. I can’t say I was thrilled, but in a way, it’s always kind of nice to get back to a routine. I worried that after a week and a half, I would have an overflowing inbox that was impossible to get through. While it was definitely full, I got through everything by the end of my day. Success!
I have to say that today I am grateful for my job. It’s often frustrating and not overly exciting. It’s not very creative. I miss the physical interactions with people and get irritated with the overload of emails some days. But I’m one of the lucky ones that was able to move, almost seamlessly, from in-person work to at-home work when the pandemic hit. And I’ve been able to continue working from home ever since. Because of my health situation, I imagine that I’ll be able to continue with my current set-up for the foreseeable future, which helps take the added anxiety of a compromised immune system down a notch. I won’t have to leave the house for anything besides doctor’s appointments if I don’t want to. I also have supportive coworkers and really great insurance. And did I mention that week and a half off for the holidays?
It may not be my dream job, but I know I’m lucky to still have a job while so many people are struggling, let alone a job that allows me to maintain a safe environment while I’m working through this illness. My heart goes out to folks who have lost their income source because of the pandemic, or who must continue to put themselves at risk, regardless of their own health issues, just to survive financially. I’m not sure what I would do if I had no choice right now but to go into a building to work with a lot of other people. I’m thankful today I don’t have that kind of hard choice to make.
This time a year ago I started this blog about the things I was grateful for. It started as a way to look at the positives in my life, instead of the negatives, which are so much easier to let become the focus. I made a commitment to write daily for a year. It wasn’t always easy and a few days I was late getting my post in, but I’m proud of myself for doing it. Every. Single. Day. I plan to keep the blog a little longer but will write less frequently. It’s been a good exercise. A friend asked me recently if it’s made me happier–all this focus on gratitude. My honest answer? Not really. At least I don’t think so. For me, happiness is something that comes and goes. What it has done is made me more conscious of my life. There’s something about purposely reflecting on the positive things at the end of the day that’s been good for me. I dare you to try it. Maybe not in blog form, but buy a journal and write stuff down. Make a Sunday list of the things that stand out to you at the end of the day. Maybe you’ll find, like I did, that it’s the small things that stand out. The big moments in our lives seem to change our trajectory, but it’s the little things that keep us moving. For me, it was stuff like laughing with my kids, dinner with friends, hugs, cat snuggles and good puppy behavior, crossing items off my to-do list, and just hanging out with my boyfriend. Find what makes your life full.
Of course, there have been some pretty big moments in my past year as well. Things I didn’t expect. Times that were really hard. Times that were really good. I started out last year in what seemed like a new chapter of my life. Just me and my cat and my two kids in a new house that still needed some work. I spent last New Year’s Eve alone, watching tv, singing karaoke in the dark, heading to bed just about midnight. I wouldn’t have imagined then that this New Year’s I’d be in Texas, spending the evening with my boyfriend, a guy who’s been an unexpected blessing. I didn’t know I’d lose my dad this year; it’s still a bit unbelievable. A year ago I hadn’t planned on getting a puppy or to be 6 credits into a graduate program with a 4.0 GPA (did I mention that? Yay me!). But here I am, 365 days later in the same, more-updated house with my still awesome kids in what seems like a different life. However, isn’t that the way things work? We may think we know what our life is about and think that we have things under control, but we don’t know. That’s why we can’t give up and we can’t take things for granted. Each day is it. Each day is all we can worry about. So each day we should look for the good stuff. I’m glad I decided to write about the positives every day for the last year, and I’m grateful you took the journey with me. I hope I somehow inspired you to look for your own simple moments. I won’t be blogging every day, but I’ll continue to look daily and I’ll write occasionally. Stay tuned in. I hope you have a fantastic New Year’s Eve and a coming year filled with much to be thankful for…
Merry Christmas! I hope yours was as joyous as mine. I spent it with my family, doing what we do best–joking around, playing games, and eating. I’m thankful for the generous spirit we had at my mom’s house, and it wasn’t just the pile of presents that were exchanged. Although that was impressive. In fact, even though we exchanged names so we didn’t have to buy for everyone, my oldest sister gave us each bracelets and my younger sister gave us a heart paperweight with “sister” on it and a framed poem she had written. I’m blessed to be part of a family that really enjoys being together and giving to each other. Sometimes the giving is in the form of teasing, especially when we are playing cards. But it’s all in good fun and we know it. At the end of the day, we pitch in to help clean up or carry things to cars or give hugs. I’m grateful we were able to spend Christmas together this year. I know it won’t always be possible.
It’s been almost a year since I bought my house and lived on my own with my girls. When I think about it, my initial reaction is to wonder how it’s been that long. But in some ways, it’s been a very long year. So much has happened and so many things have changed. And a lot of that has been good. In the last couple of days, I’ve been thinking a great deal about where I am and where I think I’m heading. While I’m still unsure about exactly where I WANT to be, I am confident that where I’m at is a good place, regardless of the uncertain days. I have a life that is full of people and activities and things that are familiar and comforting to me. And right now, I’m hesitant to venture too far out of it. I don’t think my hesitancy is out of fear as much as out of my current need for stability. I still need this life of succor I’ve created for myself in the past year. I can’t bring myself to make changes that don’t feel 100% right, even if it means I may be passing up on something potentially great. This was actually a surprising realization for me. This longing for the familiar. Maybe it’s simply my reminder to slow myself down and settle in to my life as it is. After all, there aren’t too many missing pieces. And eventually, even those will find their way here. I’m thankful today for what I have. Today it’s enough.
After months of whining about the snow and cold and ice storms, it was a joy to see this tree covered in white today. That’s one thing that is amazing about spring: flowers show up over night. I’m so thankful today for the beauty of the season, especially what’s in my own front yard.
My daughter turned 20 today. It’s a bit unbelievable to me. It seems like just days ago that she was born. A miracle baby, born at 28 weeks. Three months early and weighing only 2 pounds. It was a shock, her birth. There was nothing that prepared me for it or gave me a clue. But there she was, laying in an incubator 20 years ago, not quite fully grown. It was a hard two and a half months that she was in the hospital, waiting to get to five pounds so we could take her home. I went every day to read to her from Babar books, talking to her and watching the numbers on her monitor jump around. I wanted so much to hold her immediately and be her mom, but it was a week after she was born that I got to hold her for just a few minutes on Mother’s Day. Then I had to wait and be a spectator for a while. It was a beautiful, painful, maturing experience watching her grow outside of me. And we were all so incredibly lucky. Babies born that early oftentimes have lingering issues of some sort. The most my daughter had was glasses when she was younger, since the eyes are one of the last things to form in utero. And today she is a beautiful, intelligent, giving and talented person. Someone I am so blessed to have in my life and call my daughter. You would never know that she was born premature and had to fight so hard just to be alive. I’m immensely thankful today for her and for the way her birth changed me and made me a stronger mother.