Thursday, January 30, 2014

Pre-Cancer Napkins

I recently read this news article about a father with cancer who is busy writing to his pre-teen daughter so that when he's gone, she can still have a piece of him in her life. For many people, it's probably a heart-wrenching story, but for me, Garth Callaghan's 826 post-cancer napkins are incredibly beautiful, courageous, and, well, so very normal.

And so tonight, I'm thinking about napkins. Better yet, I'm thinking about the fact that Garth Callaghan didn't start writing notes to his daughter on napkins when he learned about his cancer; he started writing those notes years before that. Sure, his stash of 826 post-cancer napkins is remarkable. But to me, even more remarkable are the napkins Mr. Callaghan wrote prior to be diagnosed with a life-threatening disease. 

Cancer has a way of giving its unwilling hosts, at the very least, a glimpse of their potential demise. It's not an easy glimpse for anyone to handle, and even now, almost a year and a half after my diagnosis, that glimpse haunts me every day. That indescribably awful glimpse into my possible future (or lack thereof) has made me examine in pretty solid detail how I want to live my life; not so much in a long-term-planning sort of way (that's still too scary) but rather, in a day-to-day sort of way.

Without sounding like I'm thanking cancer for anything (I'm definitely not) I will say that the glimpse it gave me lead me to lots of good things. For instance, it lead me to work four days a week instead of five. That one day home has allowed me to see Teddy get off the bus and pick Annabel up from school. It has allowed me to focus more on my health and that of my family, and that's made other things that used to bother me seem small. That glimpse, as anxiety-ridden as it may be, made me write to my children, not on napkins, but on a different surface they will be able to read one day.

Here's the thing. In a weird way, cancer made all of that growth relatively easy. For example, when I came back from medical leave, I still had an infusion every three weeks, a surgery, and other regular medical appointments. With those commitments in mind, I decided to reduce my work schedule. Sure, I took a pay cut to do it, but that one day every week to focus on my doctors appointments and infusions, and now, to write and help with dinner and baths, is worth every penny, even considering how much I love my job.

I know that I would never have allowed myself to work only four days if I hadn't had a really "good" reason to do so. I probably never would have started to write. Cancer was the "good" reason to do those things. Only now I know that there were so many other far better reasons that I didn't even recognize.

That is why every single one of Mr. Callaghan's pre-cancer napkins impresses me so much. 

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