Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Third Law of Motion

This time last year, August 8th loomed in the distance like a big scary monster. That first anniversary of my diagnosis felt huge; like make-me-choke-up-the-second-I-thought-about-it huge.

This upcoming August 8th is, in most ways, so much smaller. I’m sure that if I thought about it, I could make it into something much bigger—the abominable snowman, perhaps—but it would be just that—imagined. At my core, I don’t have overwhelming apprehension (or pride) for the anniversary like I did last year.

The truth is, however, that my fear and apprehension has been diverted to a different place this year. This year, it’s wrapped up in my thoughts for the women I know battling metastatic disease. It’s wrapped up in my anger and angst that such good and young people like Kristin, Meghan, "Monica," Marisa (who you may not know yet), and countless others have to endure what they have to endure. It’s not about a date anymore. It’s about that “M” word.

Isaac Newton’s third law of motion tells us that every action has an equal but opposite reaction. Life as a cancer survivor may prove that principle as well as any science experiment ever could, for me at least. For example, I could take last weekend.

Brian, the kids, and I had been looking forward to last weekend for months. My future sister-in-law’s family was hosting an engagement party for their "little girl" and her fiancé (my brother). It would be held at a house on the beach that Lauren’s step-father essentially built with his bare hands. We were all so excited that we bought new outfits (Teddy, a shirt with a collar and Annabel, a dress to substitute for her Batman t-shirt). Our kids absolutely adore Sean and Lauren so needless to say, this was going to be an event.

Lauren's family (and Lauren, of course) are amazing; just the kind of family I would wish for my brother to marry into. Her family focuses on all the right things—they work hard but they have a vibrant life outside of their jobs; they smile a lot, laugh a lot, and don’t take each other too seriously. Most of all, they love each other with a tangible sort of love, and they live their lives untainted by ugly things like greed, image, or jealousy. It’s an awesome thing, and I was so excited to celebrate the engagement of two people that I love so much.

The party was everything we had anticipated and more. We took our shoes off on the lawn and in the sand, we drank cold soda and sangria, danced and sang, ate lots of pasta and chocolate, and enjoyed each other’s company in the most sincere and relaxed sort of way. It was precious, the kind of precious that you want to bottle up and carry around with you forever.

An extra sweet part of the day for me was that I didn’t think about cancer almost at all. It was such a welcome and unexpected respite. I just took photos, lots of photos, and soaked up the summer night.

That was the “action.” The truly beautiful action.

The next day, came the reaction.

Granted, before cancer, I would have had the blues after a night as special as Lauren and Sean's engagement party. But cancer changed those blues into something different. It's not so much a sadness anymore as it is a desperate ache for more. More gatherings of the people I love. More singing 4 Non Blondes on the porch. More time.

I know myself enough to know what I can do to make tough times easier, so after the party, I put my sneakers and some exercise clothes by the door of our hotel room. I planned to get up before anyone else woke and go for a run. Running tempers my anxiety and heartache like few other things can and I knew it was a good idea to start the day off with some endorphins flowing.

But plans are just plans. I woke up at 8am (very late in the world of parents with young kids) and by that time, I had missed my running window. So I lay in bed next to Annabel who looked as beautiful as ever. And I felt love so deep that it hurt.

After enjoying a breakfast buffet that was big enough to feed a small army, we headed home. For the first part of the ride up I-95, all was good. Teddy, Brian, and I continued our game of word association and Teddy recited the string of about 70 words that we had put together the day before. We were quite impressed. World, countries, United States, Boston… No doubt, the kid has a good memory, and we laughed at every fourth word that was somehow associated with bums or boogers (Annabel loves her potty talk and we were in the mood to laugh about it so we did).

We stopped to do some shopping and when we got back into the car, for some reason, the reaction hit. I felt tired and my back felt sore. I thought I felt cancer in my neck. It was a serious Red Alert. I tried to fight the fear and I did, externally at least. No one would have suspected a thing until I did something I rarely ever do—I fell asleep. I basically worked myself into such a mental frenzy that I resorted to my meditation techniques to calm myself down. All I do is pay attention to my breath going in and out of my body and low and behold, I dozed off doing that.

When we got home, I woke up feeling frazzled. I hate the feeling of waking up from a nap, which is part of why I never do it. Our house was a mess, Teddy and Brian were leaving for a trip the next day, and I was feeling lost.

A bike ride with Annabel helped, as did a run with Brian after I tricked my parents into watching the kids. I cried behind my sunglasses for most of our run, but it felt good to get it out; to tell Brian how shaken and upset I was about Meghan’s news, how hard it was for me to hear that someone I was so sure had been cured, had not. I don’t remember much else that I sobbed on that loop, but I remember one thing so vividly because it was as if I discovered something as the words exited my mouth. Now that I’m not running or crying, I think I may be able to explain it a bit better than I wailed to Brian last Sunday night.

If there is one way that cancer has changed me most, I know what it would be. I don’t take anything for granted. I know, that sounds so cliché, but I would bet that most people who have faced a terminal illness know what I’m talking about, and that it's on a level that is indescribably more deep than a cliché. I really don’t take anything for granted anymore. Sure, I know the sun will rise tomorrow, but I know now that it doesn't necessarily rise for any one person.

Which is why, I think, the reactions are so strong after something like my brother’s engagement party. Because I want to be at Sean and Lauren’s wedding so much that I can taste the tears that start to form when I think about it.

This is one of those blogs that I may or may not publish, and if I do, I will worry that I upset someone. But everything I’ve said is the truth and in the end, I still believe that the truth does more good than harm. And the truth is that the most painfully precious consequence to having a truly wonderful life is that I so desperately want to keep living it.

Me and my brother.
Teddy kind of enjoyed the bruschetta...

So much for the new white shirt!

After I took photos of Sean and Lauren, Sean snapped this one of all of us.


  1. Tara, hope we can connect soon to talk about adoption. In the meantime, I wanted to thank you for this post. You've summed up how I'm sure I will feel when I come out the other side in 2015. In many ways, I already have changed - but as you know, it's different when you're in the midst of treatment with your head down doing what you're supposed to and fighting off daily side effects. There isn't much time left to think beyond today. Glad you had such a wonderful family weekend, and sorry that you have dear friends who've had their cancer return. My heart breaks for them and you.

  2. I love everything about this post because truth is always better and things ARE complicated and you keep inspiring me with your words...❤️

  3. I love everything about this because the truth is always better and things ARE complicated and you continue to inspire me with your truths and words...❤️