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.
We have over 6 inches of snow outside right now. Sadly, it came after Christmas, but happily, it makes everything look so clean and bright. It also makes my Christmas lights glow differently, so I’m planning to be one of those people who leave the lights on longer than everyone else in the neighborhood. They make me happy, so they’re staying a while.
It was also sunny and warm enough today to take a walk outside. I was thankful for the fresh air and to see how the trees were still covered with icicles. A lot of winter weather is miserable, but today, it was picturesque.
While Patrick and I don’t typically have New Year’s Resolutions, I asked him on our walk if he had any goals for 2021. His immediate response was get to the end of it. I couldn’t disagree, but at the same time, I don’t want to wish the year away. We then talked about possibilities that are still attainable; hobbies and projects that have been on our individual lists for a while. I want to read more–not just for fun but for intellectual stimulation. I find I miss the academic world. I’d like to go back and pick up on some of my communications research. I’m also working on my crafts and would like to get to the point of actually selling them, instead of just talking about it. That was my plan last year, and then Covid hit. All the little craft fairs and markets shut down. It became harder to figure out how to sell remotely, so I became lazy with it. The pandemic halted a lot of things last year, but I refuse to let it halt my growth any longer. I may still need to quarantine, but I can do more than binge watch Netflix. Regardless of the difficulties ahead, I’m still thankful for a new year, and while I look forward to what the end of this year will mean, I also look forward to the opportunities that will come along the way.
Wow, last year was a long one, wasn’t it? I think most of us will agree that it’s going down in history as one to forget. All that quarantining. All the social distancing. Like most folks, we started our hunker-down by taking up new hobbies (puzzles or bread making, anyone?) and thought all the home time would be fun and cozy. We finally remodeled our main bathroom, doing almost all of the work ourselves, putting in a walk-in shower to make it easier to bathe the dogs. Priorities. Patrick expanded his garden. I taught a couple of online classes. We were both able to work from home and continue to do so.
Of course, like everyone else experienced, the novelty of being homebound quickly faded and the reality of what was happening in our world was sobering. We were constantly grateful to avoid getting sick and avoid losing people we love like those highlighted in the news. We missed our interactions with family and friends and still do. Although we are typically homebodies, being forced apart has taken its toll. There have been some long and lonely days. I miss my kids. I was able to see them only briefly for a few days during the early summer. I likely won’t get to see them in person for many more months. I miss our families, whom we’ve really mostly seen online all year. I miss a lot of things.
I turned 50 in November. Patrick, who hates large gatherings, was actually hoping to throw a surprise party, but that didn’t happen. We celebrated the milestone like most of our days, home with the dogs, eating some good home-cooked food. Patrick has become quite the gourmet chef. I got a couple new power tools and some fantastic gifts from my friends and family. Fancy wine glasses and flowers and candy. And then the day after my birthday, I found out I have breast cancer.
Needless to say, it’s been an extra difficult ending to an already difficult year. The last six weeks has been a tornado of doctor’s appointments and an overload of information I never wanted to know. Unfortunately, my cancer is the uncommon type that is difficult to spot. That meant that the initial finding of about 1/2 inch spot showed up just larger than 2 inches on an MRI. That also changed treatment options and the timing of them. This past Monday I had surgery to remove lymph nodes and put in a chemo port. It was harder than I anticipated. The reality of this has set in and I’m now afraid in a way I wasn’t before. I worry about what’s coming and I worry I’m not strong enough.
This is why I begin this blog again. I need to refocus. I need the hope and optimism that I know is out there. 2021 isn’t going to be a lot better for us. The chemo I’ll begin next week will compromise my immune system and make it even more necessary to quarantine. Even quick shopping trips will disappear. It’s going to be tough. So what am I thankful for today? That I’m alive. That breast cancer is treatable. That so far, it looks like it hasn’t spread any further and I won’t have surgery again for months. That I have someone by my side who makes me stronger. That I have family and friends who have been amazingly supportive since they heard the news. It’s a new year and if 2020 taught us anything, there is still so much good can still be present amidst the rotten. I’ll be looking for it.
I wish a new year really meant a reset. A putting away of the the past and a new embrace of the future. A hard line drawn in the sand where the old doesn’t start seeping into the new. But that isn’t the way it works. It’s February of a new year, and it doesn’t feel new. I know it’s my fault. Last year had some tough moments. Really tough. And some of those moments have lingered.
There is a budget crisis at work that makes my job feel unstable. Well, in Illinois pretty much all colleges are in a budget crisis. I survived one round of lay-offs already. But I’m close to finishing my Master’s degree, so hopefully I’ll be in a good position to find something different if the need arises.
My daughter totaled my newly paid off car which means I now have a car payment added to the strained household budget. But she wasn’t hurt and we got a new car so we don’t have to worry about something breaking down and adding to the bills.
And the doctor told me I have about a 1% chance of having a baby at my age. Even though I got pregnant last year, the miscarriage wasn’t an anomaly. That was the norm. But… This one is harder. This one challenges a lot of what I believed. Mostly that age doesn’t matter. Because now it does and for more than one reason. It means that because of my age, I must let go of the desire I have for another child, of experiencing parenthood with the man I love. It also means that I’m robbing him of fatherhood and trusting that he can live with that. All of a sudden, my age has become a life changer. I wasn’t ready for that. For the past six months I’ve been hopeful. Every month, hopeful that we could be part of the 1%. But my faith has also been challenged, and I realize that I can’t will it to happen. I can’t just work harder at it either. And I can’t change my age, as much as I may defy it. If it happens, it will be a gift.
There’s a quote that frequently makes the rounds and is usually attributed to the philosopher Socrates, although he didn’t say it. A character named Socrates said it in the book, Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman. The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new. This is a new year. And today is Groundhog day. I love the movie, but I don’t want to live with my life on repeat. I need to let some things remain last year’s issues and work even harder on acceptance this year. Of my age. My limitations. Once again, gratitude will be my comfort. For the best way to accept loss is to balance it with the blessings. I still have a job. My kids are safe. I’m almost done with my degree. I’m able to afford to replace my car. I have a 1% chance which is better than 0% and my guy insists he loves me no matter what. That’s what I’m thankful for today.
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…