My childhood friend is one of those girls who can accessorize anything. She has a purple purse for the days she has purple nails. She doesn’t skip curling her hair on the weekends. She is put-together, observant, and socially fluent. I’ve known her since third grade and I’ve actually never seen her make a misstep. But, today she’s crying over brunch.
Her mother has terminal breast cancer. “It’s just that it’s not socially acceptable to keep talking about cancer past a certain point. At first everyone is interested, but after awhile I can tell that people feel like it’s a chore that they have to keep asking how my mom’s doing. I can tell that some people are kind of annoyed she hasn’t died yet because it means they haven’t to keep asking. They don’t want this to be a constant part of me.”
I know how she feels. It’s not that it’s anyone’s fault. It just gets awkward when it’s been a year and a half and I can’t say, “he’s great,” or “he’s cured,” or “things are fine.” Well, actually, frequently I do say those things. It’s just that they aren’t exactly true. We need friends more than ever and I’m constantly concerned that if I say what I’m really thinking, or how I’m really feeling, that I’ll lose the friends I so desperately need. I won’t lose them because they’re intentionally tired of talking to me, but it gets awkward for everyone when it’s been a long time with no progress and they have no advice to offer. And then they assume that it’s them and that other people do a better job responding to the cancer situation and you can feel things start to fizzle.
Sometimes I’m more exhausted from being socially acceptable than I am from the cancer.
My goal this weekend was to get my life organized. I was hoping to figure out my five-year career plan, determine which hobbies I would pursue in my spare time, and finally tackle the ever-present to-do list. I thought maybe if I sat down long enough, I’d be able to completely take stock of the person I’ve become and figure out what it means.
Spoiler alert: I didn’t figure out who I’m supposed to be.
I don’t love admitting this, but ever since A’s cancer diagnosis, I’ve lost my own identity a bit. Before the cancer, I was an honors graduate from a prestigious law school full of drive with stars in my eyes. When I was faced with the possibility of losing A, though, my interest in my career deflated and I quickly became satisfied to leave work at the door at five. My heart has never fully returned. I know there’s more out there for me in the career world, but I’m no longer sure about chasing it. Instead, I’m happy to go to work, come home and let the hours dwindle away staring out the window at the night sky, a glass of red wine on the table and A’s head in my lap.
Maybe I’ve changed and I don’t want the same things out of my life anymore. Or maybe I haven’t and my current complacency isn’t being true to myself. I’m not sure if I’m just paralyzed when I think about moving forward because I’m afraid I won’t have the chance to come back and experience ordinary moments with A.
I love A more than anything, so if I knew that our time would be limited, I know for sure that I’d pushing work as far to the side as possible. But, A is in remission and if we’re going to get to grow old together, then at some point I have to start thinking about what I want to do with my life using myself as true north rather than cancer. I’m not sure when cancer became the reference point for everything. And I’m not sure when I’m supposed to make that stop. Or how. All I can tell you for now is that it wasn’t this weekend.
This evening I was trying out a new recipe, slow dancing around the kitchen, and thinking about the best advice I could possibly give to a friend newly diagnosed with cancer. Every time I think about our journey, I feel differently and remember different things. Tonight, for whatever reason, I found myself focusing upon all the romantic moments. You might think those wouldn’t exist, in the bright white lights, with nurses barging in unexpectedly and incessant IV beeping. But, there were so many days and days on end with mainly only each other’s company. And in those days, there were so many moments that were just ours. We probably far more moments together just the two of us than we would have had under normal circumstances. And some of those moments are moments that I would not let go of or trade in. Moments walking around the floor together, IV pole in between us, holding hands. Moments where we successfully took on a doctor who refused to discharge us and managed to win. Moments where we buried ourselves in a fort of hospital sheets to have the pretense of privacy. Moments where we snuck off the wing and danced a few waltz steps and a few spins. So many moments looking into each other’s eyes and knowing that we just loved each other too much to give it up.
My friend’s wedding pictures came in today. They were so beautiful, full of fun and smiles. IN the middle of all the pictures, I found this little gem. What I like about it is that we’re in the middle of song, floor, and world that are moving, but we’re stopped. We took a tiny moment out of the world and froze it. I’m so glad that we did. This was the last dance, the last week of the freedom before A’s piercing hip pain set in.
A has been in remission for almost a year-and-a-half now. Many of our days are normal, although many are not. He’s still in treatment, so there are frequent doctor’s appointments but theoretically he has only one more big in-patient hospital stay. His hips hurt him badly everyday. Sometimes it’s a struggle for him to walk across the apartment. We can’t run together anymore and we had to quit our bowling team, but this is a side-effect. Some days we aren’t dealing with “The Disease.” But, it’s still there in the back of my head. I keep thinking about other couples I know of who were in remission about a year-and-a-half before it came back. Or two years. Or five years. Some nights get away from me. I feel guilty because I think that if I had stronger mental discipline, I wouldn’t be wandering down this mental road. Yet, like a bowl of ice cream or extra cup of coffee, sometimes I engage in it anyway.
Tonight is one of those nights. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve viewed this comic, on and off again, over the months. Sometimes the visualization of what you’re feeling can make you feel understood. At the same time, it’s overwhelming as well.
The weather for my wedding day is now on the 10-day weather.com forecast, meaning that something about that day has been predicted, is in the sights of scientists. I try to predict how I will feel, yet I know my prediction will be wrong. I have never felt the overwhelming grief I expect to feel at funerals or the overwhelming sense of accomplishment that comes with a graduation. Nothing seems to sink in in the exact moment and I’m sure that getting married will be the same.
A and I are already civilly married and have fought through a tough year, so I know better than to think that a marriage will change us (and since I like us the way we are, I am grateful for that!) But even knowing what I know about feelings, I wonder what it will be like. In quiet moments, I am worried about the hoopla. Something about me doesn’t feel up to the task of spending a whole day discussing my relationship with A with others. The thing is, throughout this whole cancer experience, people seem to have developed this image of us as a couple that just isn’t accurate. People keep telling me that we inspire them, that our love inspires them. Prior to the cancer, nobody ever said things like that. In most ways, I am less refined than my friends and my taste in men has always been nerdy. Because of this, I’ve always been the one my friends felt they needed to “help along” and nobody ever thought A and I were inspirational. Everyone has always thought we were dorks. And when it comes down to it, that’s essentially still the truth. The thing is, cancer didn’t change us. Yes, it sucks, but it hasn’t provided us with any revolutionary insight or perspective. We haven’t done anything special.
We love each other, but our love isn’t objectively special, it’s special to us. But here is this day devoted to our relationship and our love and I am so bored with it that I’m not sure I can maintain what people want to see the whole day. Our love is boring and I love that it’s boring. We don’t live a life of short dresses and cowboy boots, of fences with dates written in chalk, or cute signature cocktails. I don’t know how to make our love showy or inspirational or worth everyone’s fuss and I’m afraid that will be expected.