Tuesday, October 9, 2012

We Win

When I told my Mom that I was pregnant with Teddy (then, not much more than a cluster of cells), she didn't jump up and down and start to cry like some mothers do. Not for lack of love or excitement, or for the fact that we were sitting in a restaurant booth, but she's just not like that. She's more practical. Instead, we talked a bit about parenthood and she told me -- Everything in life changes when you become a parent. Like a teenager listening to a parent's warning before prom night, I laughed off her subtle advice, feeling somewhat invincible. I told her that my life wouldn't really change that much. I won't just sit around in my house with a little baby, I informed her. I thought of the few friends I had with babies and they were still awesomely active. I'll be like them, I told her. She just smiled and said, Your life won't be about you anymore. You'll see. Since I haven't even reached the five-year-old stage with my oldest, I'm sure I still have lots more to learn about what she meant, but I already realize some of what made my Mom smile that day. I had no idea what I was talking about. And I had even less of an idea about how much my life was about to change upon the arrival of a baby boy, and three years later, a baby girl.

*  *  *

Apologies for any suspense caused by not immediately revealing whether chemo is a go tomorrow.  I feel like the teaser to the local news, holding back precisely what I know you have come to hear. Well, good news! Dr. Chun cleared me to begin chemo tomorrow. It turns out that the blood at the incision site wasn't all bad -- in fact, it meant that there was live tissue, and that's just what she was aiming for. So flying elephants and three hours of cleaning out the whole family's summer clothes and replacing them with fall and winter ones did not end up costing me another week of delay, after all. And even better, today Teddy wore pants that actually fell below his shins. 

I cried when Dr. Chun said I was ready for my treatment tomorrow. They were partly tears of relief and partly tears of fright. But mostly, they felt like tears of victory. Because, again, it's Go Time. And again, I'm ready to fight this intruder to its death. 

After my appointment, my Mom and I ran some errands (if by "errands" you interpret, "buying things I don't really need"). Second to writing, organizing is my other therapy and the Container Store was calling my name since yesterday morning when I stuffed too many summer clothes into the plastic box under my bed. As I walked up and down the sacred aisles, I remembered back to my internal mental breakdown at the Container Store before my surgery and realized again how far I have come. Because during this trip, I was floating on air, still so thrilled by the excellent news from Dr. Chun. Sure, even this time I still wasn't able to properly contain myself like the store motto instructed me to, but this time, it was all good. 

After we grabbed a sandwich (with mustard instead of mayo), I convinced my Mom to let me help her clean her basement. It's an ongoing project -- really ongoing -- and Helen and Kirsten helped make some great progress with it over the weekend. My Mom only let me contribute an hour, but in that hour, I convinced her to throw away all of her DVD covers and put all of her DVDs in a big binder. I love to simplify and save space, and this project undoubtedly did more for me than Effexor ever could. Then again, I may have been fueled by the steroids, but whatever, the useless DVD covers are gone.

When I got home with the kids, we played for a while and when Brian started dinner, I checked on my blog. My last entry included two comments, both from anonymous readers, and once I read them, I gained some precious clarity. That clarity is what I want to write about tonight. 

The first reader's comment included the following: Even though we've never met you represent any woman and every woman and I am supporting you 100%. Wow. I've sat here and tried to find the right words, but I can't describe the appreciation I feel to have the support of this perfect stranger, and the countless others who continue to think of me and pray for my wellbeing. All I can say is that I never knew something somewhat invisible could be so overwhelmingly beautiful. But your support is just that, and I mean it when I say that that beauty you have shown me is so powerful that it is helping to save my life. Still, that description of my appreciation doesn't even feel adequate. 

What I can describe is this. I never started this blog thinking I would represent anyone but myself. Back then, my cocoon was as dark as the deepest part of night, and I know that part of the night well. From that cocoon, I barely opened my eyes; too scared of the depth of that darkness. But then the nurses at Winchester Hospital, and later at the Faulkner gave me hope and reminded me what it felt like to breathe fresh air. Bruce sang to me, and my family and friends called, wrote, prayed, cooked, gave me hundreds of generous gifts and good luck charms, and traveled long distances to see me. I found glimmers of light. Then Dr. Nakhlis removed the tumor and told the cancer its time was up. Full stop. Dr. Chun gave me new breasts. Total recovery. And Dr. Bunnell crafted my chemo plan. Checkmate. 

You know what comes next, and my second anonymous reader reminded me with her comment from today. I win. Yes, I will win. But my moment of complete clarity today wasn't about just that. It was about something much, much more. Thanks to these precious comments and all of your other messages before and after them, today I realized that this is all about so much more than me. As the second commenter wrote, it's about her mother, and her sister, and every other woman who has needed Allies. And it's about every other woman (or man) who will need those Allies in the future. It's about cathedrals. 

It didn't happen immediately, but sometime after Teddy was born, I finally realized part of why my Mom smiled from across the booth that day that I told her I was pregnant. She knew that there was no way to explain to me how much that baby would change everything. There was no way for me to comprehend that my life would no longer be about me. I think she also knew I'd figure it out. And eventually, I did. 

Having kids has made me an exponentially better person. A less selfish person. A more loving person. With more perspective, more patience, more energy, more enthusiasm, more honesty, and more empathy. By no means am I claiming that having kids is the only way a person could improve him or herself. There are many ways; it's just that having kids is what did it for me. And by no means do I suggest that I don't have much room to improve, because I most certainly do. Still, my kids made me learn to laugh about spit-up on my shoulder (once, that I found during a business meeting). Every day they make me more creative (I recently finished the draft of a children's book that I wrote for them). They make me want to learn more so I can teach them (yesterday on the way to iParty, Brian had to explain to Teddy why Rob Gronkowski is taller than Daddy even though Daddy is older than Gronk -- he keeps us on our toes!). And lately, my kids make me brave when otherwise, I'd likely crumble. 

What's so precious, and absolutely amazing, about this writing space for me is that perfect strangers are doing all of this, too. Obviously, there's a different context, and clearly a different level of personal connection, but still, men and women I may never meet are making me a better person every day. They give me those things I just mentioned above, from the will to be more honest to the will to be more brave. They remind me, likely without even intending to do so, that this story is not just about me anymore. That realization, that clarity, brings me great strength now just like it did when I finally realized what my Mom had been talking about. It helps me sit here on the eve of chemotherapy feeling so blessed to have the chance to write something that, for whatever reason, someone else may not be in a position to be able to say or want to say, but that they nonetheless want said. 

Your support makes me want to walk into Dana Farber tomorrow with my head held high, my body healthy and strong, my face glowing with all the hope that my angels in cyberspace are sending to me (as the reader so eloquently expressed). Because if I'm doing this right, that light will bounce right back out there to anyone else who finds herself in a dark cocoon, too scared to open her eyes. It's not about me anymore. Today, thanks to perfect strangers, I realized that it's more about that light that I hope can pierce another dark cocoon and tell the person curled inside that even if he or she can't yet see see it, everything is going to be OK in the end. Checkmate. We win. 


  1. Congrats on being able to move forward tomorrow. What a great post tonight. I think what reading your blog has done for me (a 30-something mom with 2 young kids) is reiterate that cancer can happen to anyone at anytime. Unfortunately I feel like I'm hearing more and more of these stories of young women battling breast cancer. What is so special about what you're doing is that you're bringing that much more awareness - and for lack of a better word - "approachability" to the battle. I really don't think of these things as happening to "other people" anymore. For that you should be SO proud of yourself, as your fight is helping SO many others. Good luck tomorrow!

    1. Thank you so much for this. I love your "approachability" idea, and to be honest, it's exactly what inspired me to post my photos from chemo the next day -- to try to help show people that it's not terrifying, but rather, a surprisingly approachable experience :)

      And yes, cancer can happen to anyone at anytime. But so can miracles! :)

  2. Rock on, girlfriend. Another amazing entry from a most amazing YOU!

    As for tomorrow, it really IS the first day of the rest of your life so let's get this party started! Peace, love and light my friend...

  3. Very happy to hear the news about treatment tomorrow. I know that through this process you have gained a ton of strength with this fight to beat cancer. Your right, you win. You have provided me with great insight into my life which in turn has made me a better person and I thank you for that. Good luck today and I am thinking about you today and everyday.

    1. You were already an incredible person so I'm not sure what more I could have done :) xoxo