Three years ago today, we heard the word cancer for the first time. “You have cancer, you’re going to lose your baby and you’ll never have your own children again,” was actually what we heard. I spend a lot of time thinking about people’s stories of when they were diagnosed. I’m fairly certain how it’s handled can immediately dictate the trajectory of the battle. I know it did for us. I guess it was fitting that ours was handled so flippantly. I mean, why not a worst case way for a worst case scenario. What kills me most is the doctor didn’t even have the pathology from the biopsy at that point. This was on a Monday. That Thursday (this Sunday) I was officially diagnosed with sccc, turning those haunting words into our sobering reality.
It still amazes me, not in a good way, how nothing went our way. If it would’ve been “normal” cervical cancer. If it would’ve been caught sooner. Or if I were 32 weeks along. If I wasn’t pregnant we would’ve been able to harvest my eggs for future biological children. If. If. If. Absolutely nothing went our way. There aren’t words I could string together that could bring life to what those following two weeks felt like as we sought different opinions, or any information that would yield hope. Destroyed again. And again. And again.
I still ask Kevin at times how this is our life. Isn’t that funny? I think it says everything about cancer though, it’s so unreal in what it does to you that it’s often surreal.
The hard part about anniversaries is there’s a piece of you stuck deep in the trenches of those memories. No matter how much time distances you from that day, you can feel, taste, and see it all as if it were that exact day again. It’s haunting. The song, “Mary, Did you Know?” literally takes me back to my moms car, because it was playing when I called my sister, as we were passing the old post office in Chicago. I can still feel the silence and hear and taste the tears. Even if it were dead of summer and 80 degrees out, that song would take me there (of course I don’t listen to Christmas music in July). Or how a scene in a movie or TV show, or a well intentioned comment or conversation immediately triggers any part of all that trauma, and you’re left spiraling …again. There’s another piece of you that doesn’t want cancer to keep winning by staying stuck. There’s a piece that tells you you have to make something of it, see the good, while another piece of you wants to slap that voice squarely, as if to say, absolutely not, are you kidding?! There’s a piece of you that needs to feel a deep sense of gratitude for beating the horrible odds, survivors guilt as they say, especially with my cancer. Two women died yesterday alone from my cancer. It’s so messed up.
I’m not sure what the right way to do these days is. I know I’ve had many moments of spontaneous tears this week. Out of nowhere, that punch to the gut. I know that I still deal with a lot of triggers as a result of the day I was diagnosed, how I was diagnosed and because of cancer as a whole and it is hard and exhausting and you got it, unfair. I know the fear of cancer persists big time three years later. I know now how to talk myself off the ledge of my inevitable first reaction to anything, which is of course always the worst case scenario, because I am that. I know how hard adding parenthood into that line of thinking is and how much I have had to fight to retrain my instincts and how much I’ve had to rely on Kevin to be my sounding board, my moderator. I know that I had millions of moments that I didn’t know if I’d make it or why I made it and Hallie didn’t. Really, really dark moments. I know I had and have moments of such intense anger towards our circumstances that I would take on the whole world if I could! I know that every single one of my relationships changed, because I changed. Cancer changed everything. Grief changed everything. When I was first diagnosed, someone told me and Kevin that 50% of marriages with cancer end in divorce and something even higher I think with child loss. Super comforting to hear, right? I can understand why because I know the way in which you grieve and process the fears and realities of cancer is so radically different, that it requires a level of communication that is basically superhuman! I know what it takes to beat those odds! How hard we had to fight to learn that and to make space for each other on it and to grant grace and to cheerlead each other on. I know that our ability to laugh saved us more days that we probably realize, even if people think our cancer jokes are too much or too soon. I know that my faith changed entirely through this process. I thought I always had to be perfect and happy and thankful – that’s fake. Actual fake news. I know now that God is big enough for my anger, my why’s, my screams. I know that because I was that. I am still that some days. And I know what He does with it, what He makes of it. I see it in our life today. I see it in our son whose smile melts away any sleepless night, crazy diaper or witching hour. Who everyone says looks like us. I see it in our daughter who is looking down on us and whose legacy has helped us spread hope to the very people whose shoes (socks?!) we’ve walked in. In the orange sunsets I know she has her hands in. I see it in all the opportunities we’ve gotten as a family as a result of HallieStrong. I see it in the perspective that has shown us who and what truly matters and the drive to pour our heart only into that. I see it in that my son and nephew are two months apart! In watching our parents finally becoming grandparents and siblings finally becoming aunts and uncles here on earth and their love for Kelly. It can sure melt you! I see it in the holiday joy already filling our home (yes, Halloween, not Christmas I promise!). I was made for having children during the holidays, I swear, that or I am still a child when it comes to the holidays. I cannot wait for the magic of Christmas Eve with Kelly! I see it in the people we’ve met (that we wouldn’t have otherwise) that have changed our lives and in our friends who stood by us all along and continue to see to it that we are ok. Who make us laugh without end. Who come together and work to make sure it isn’t just on us to make sure Hallie’s life is never forgotten.
I could’ve never known three years ago today where we’d be today. If I’d be here today. I have no idea where we will be in three years from now but I guess that’s the point of cancer. It makes you face the realities of life that we all actually face, it’s just head on for us. This life truly is so fleeting. We would’ve been just fine having never met our fate with you cancer and I’m feeling that hard this week. And (and, not but!) I am intentionally recognizing every single thing I am so grateful for today even harder. Most notably big, big bear hugs, like these, with my family. Of course I was going to squeeze in one more proud plug of our marathoner! 😉