I find myself teetering on a very delicate balance between being swallowed up by cancer and living a normal, happy life. I don’t quite fit in either. Cancer has consumed me so much for the past year that when I write “ca” on my phone the auto spelling finishes the word “cancer” not can, cat, cantaloupe. Always cancer. My facebook newsfeed is filled with cancer organizations, friends facing cancer, friends dying of cancer. I can tell when people look at me they think “that poor young woman with terminal cancer.” But, I am not sick right now. I’m training for a 1/2 marathon, running kids around town, updating light fixtures in my foyer, leading Hope Scarves, etc… Yet, I am not a healthy, carefree person either. My first thought when I wake up is sadness. I find myself crying in bathrooms when I am out with friends just overwhelmed for a moment. I think some people shy away from asking me to do things because they aren’t sure how to engage with me and my family. Am I sick? Am I healthy? Neither?
I don’t understand. I don’t expect others to.
Last week our family went to Montana with a couple other families for a ski trip. It was amazing. We had such an awesome time together as a family – who by all accounts was just like everyone else. Healthy, happy, vacationers… I fell for it too. I took a vacation from cancer. Which I am so thankful I was able to do… I know for many people facing this disease that isn’t possible. And, I didn’t take it for granted for one sunny moment. While the kids were in ski school a couple parents went all the way to the top of Lone Mountain. I skied a steep icey black diamond with rocks jutting out as the blur or my tears fogged my goggles. I never thought I would be strong enough to do this again. I let go of fear and just felt my thighs burn, my heart pounding in my chest. I gasped for air at 11,000 feet and felt so much joy. Up there I wasn’t a cancer patient. I was strong, healthy and capable. It was so amazing to escape reality.
What is the right way to live? Do I live in the joy of today and forget about cancer while I can? Just laugh and play and not let it dominate my thoughts and time?? Or, do I take this beast by the horns and advocate for change for me and others? Raise money for research. Raise awareness about the realty facing people with stage 4 breast cancer. Fight for more substance in the pinkwashing that has hijacked breast cancer? Lead www.hopescarves.org with the passion of helping others facing cancer have hope in the face of fear…
I have always given 110% of whatever I took on. Engaged parent? Yup – room parent for both kids, party planning, class playdates… Adventure? 1/2 ironman triathlon, skydiving, waterfall repelling… Education? masters degree, check. So, terminal cancer patient. How do I do this in the “best” way possible? But, at the same time not become my diagnosis? I am so much more than cancer. I don’t want that to be all I think about, write about, talk about… but, that IS who/what I am.
Somehow I will figure out how to be joyful while also recognizing the harsh reality I am facing. One foot in a happy world. One in a dark, scary place. My heart torn between the two. I will perfect my balancing skills. Surely to trip up and fall completely into one or the other at one time or another. Terrified of the time when I can’t climb out of the dark place. Balancing this life for as long as I can. Just like holding the tree pose in yoga – I guess core is the key. Strengthening the very core of my being to hold myself up when my standing leg shakes and I fall to the side. Get back in the pose… hold it as long as possible… only with terminal cancer- I can get knocked over no matter how strong my core is. Strength can’t hold me up forever.
As I balance between the two worlds- I appreciate your support. I can’t balance like this on my own. Don’t worry about how to best support me in this balancing act. I don’t know either. When you reach out and lend a hand you hold me up. Maybe as I lean into the world of joy – dinner, theater, running. Maybe as I tip into the world of fear – doctor appointments, crying, anger. We wobble together…for as long as we can. I appreciate not being on the see-saw alone.