I don’t know how it happened, but my little blog here has taken on a life of its own. When I started it, my only real purpose was to keep my friends and extended family up to date on my condition and my treatment so that Brian and my Mom didn’t have that added responsibility. I quickly realized that writing was my therapy so the entries grew longer and more elaborate; when my world felt like it was crumbling around me, I could at least string some thoughts into some sentences and try to believe in them.
Then a crazy thing happened -- people actually started reading what I was writing. The local newspaper in my town published my second entry, and someone told someone who told someone else about it. Obviously we’re not talking “going viral” here, but I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined that something I wrote would make its way onto so many monitors and smart phones (now even including a few in China, France, and Egypt, although I still think those could be mistakes on my Blogger stats map). Beyond that, I never dreamt that my writing could help other people, yet so many of you have told me that it has done just that. I can't fathom that my most desperate of times have produced something salutary. (Did I just use that word right? Probably not, but close enough.)
I’d love to sit and revel in the compliments I’ve received, but I feel that there is a major piece of this puzzle that I must add before I am even close to being worthy of a fraction of them. Since you know me by now, you won’t be surprised that I’ll explain this puzzle piece through a story.
In my fourth year of teaching, I had a student, let’s call this student a "him" and let’s call him "John Watson" to keep this person anonymous (Brian is watching Sherlock Holmes as I write this – talk about battling back, you go Robert Downey, Jr.!). John was a quiet kid, a really quiet kid, and his class was full of other students with much more outgoing personalities. The louder bunch was not a bad bunch by any means, in fact, they were fabulous, but they were just those kinds of kids that were vocal enough and funny enough to get a lot of attention in a class room.
As a teacher, I always relied on my students’ body language to judge whether they were paying attention and grasping a concept or whether their mind was on another planet. But John gave me little to work with. He just sat in his seat, with a faint, kind smile, and barely moved a muscle or said a word unless instructed to do so. I am so ashamed to admit this, but I even remember one day when John came into class and quietly told me he had been absent the day before and needed a worksheet. I was horrified when I realized that I hadn’t even noticed his absence.
When parent teacher conferences rolled around, John’s mother came to see me. Since I felt like I barely knew her son, I was curious if we would have enough to talk about to fill the time slot (and it was only 5 minutes long). I will never forget those five minutes. This student’s mother told me that almost every day, John would come home telling her about something he had learned in class that day. One day, he came home and told her that I had paid him a huge compliment on one of his assignments and he was thrilled about it (I pretended to remember this, but I didn’t…again, I felt shame). This family changed a part of me, and recently, I found myself thinking about them.
I feel like I’ve become a member of that vocal classroom pack. People know I have cancer and they know I keep writing about it. Crazily, when I don’t write, people even notice (and trust me, I feel humbled and honored that that is the case). But I also want to remember the John Watsons out there, because there are millions of them.
In the last few weeks, I have learned countless stories from all of you of family members and friends who have battled back from cancer, even some of the most dreadful of cancers. I have seen the commercials for the upcoming Jimmy Fund Walk (it’s the Sunday before my surgery). I have walked through the halls at Dana Farber and Faulkner and the Brigham and seen patients fighting for their lives. And I’d imagine that most of those people are fighting their fight quietly. No blogs, no newspaper articles, no public attention. Maybe it took me too long, but I finally realized that while I write, there’s a single mother out there working a second shift through her chemo to provide for her family. While I write, there’s a man out there who doesn’t feel the freedom to express his pain or his terror. While I write, there’s a kid out there who just wants to start school next week.
As I walked through the supermarket last night I wondered about every person that passed our big blue police car shopping cart (Teddy and Annabel were at the wheel, already poor drivers distracted by their American cheese). Was that woman, or her loved one, battling a serious illness? Was that guy sad, or scared, or confused, and putting groceries in his cart just like I was?
Despite that this blog is about me (I sometimes cringe at how many times I write, “I,” in a single entry), I hope it’s also about all of those people who are fighting their own battles privately. I hope that we all stop to think that for every one of my entries, there are thousands of men, women, and children battling cancer and other overwhelming challenges without an audience, and worse yet, some even without a support network. Quietly, patiently, courageously, they travel and have traveled these roads upon which I now embark. Every word that someone says to them means something and every compliment gives them strength. They go home at night reflecting on the people that crossed their path that day -- their doctors, nurses, co-workers, bosses, teachers, hairdressers. Their voices are strong and brave and powerful, even if you never hear them.