It doesn't matter how hard you try to stay positive. When you are living with advanced cancer, there will always be tumultuous emotions weighing you down.
I went to my pain and symptom management appointment the other day and we discussed my latest scan which was taken a couple weeks ago. Not only is it a clear scan but the cancer that was visible in my neck has completely disappeared. I admit I've shed more than a couple tears in relief and joy at this news. The difficult part is being told this cancer is so advanced that it will come back. That it isn't curable. The happiness I feel at knowing the cancer has disappeared is forever shadowed by the fact that it will still ultimately be what takes me from my children and husband. Like my oncologist said, it won't be next month or even next year. It may not be for a few years. But it will drastically shorten my life and they are almost certain of it. How can a life that is full of so many good things, a life that is depended on by little children, be cut short. No, it doesn't seem fair. I know I could beat the odds. We hear of it happening all the time. But I'm also realistic. And 25/40 lymph nodes is a lot. They want to call it stage 4 and metastatic because of that silly little node doing it's job all the way up in my neck. That's a long way from my stomach. I know my chances are slim of living past the next five years. But I know... I know I was meant to do some really great things in my life. I know I was meant to be a mom. I know I was meant to help people and make a difference. I know I wasn't meant to die young. And this is where the anger comes from. Not knowing what's going to happen. I'm gradually learning to be comfortable with uncertainty, but it's not something you learn overnight. But either way, I don't want to spend my time being angry and bitter- who does? So I need to acknowledge it, honor it, and move forward. No matter how difficult that is. So here I am, acknowledging it, drinking my coffee and listening to Dora in the living room, wishing I could go back to the trivial little problems I had before I knew I had cancer. Those problems seemed like everything at the time but now seem like nothing.
People say to live life fully in the moment, especially when you have a life threatening illness. Until you have a life threatening illness though, it's very easy to say that. I fully and truly each day try to live by those words though. I wake up every morning thinking of things I'm grateful for and I look at my children and my husband like never before. I stare at them longer, I hug them longer, I tell them I love them more often. I think many times everyday how I will live a long happy life and I will get to snuggle with my grandchildren and even my great grandchildren. It WILL happen, I tell myself. I think of how there's this fundamental idea that our thoughts affect our physical well being. That we can move into perfect health, body and mind, we can heal our sick bodies, help our immune system repair itself and fight like never before the cancer that has invaded our bodies. But it is not easy to stay positive day in and day out. In fact the negative emotions, the sadness, the fear, they never fully go away. We learn to live with those emotions. We cope in healthy ways hopefully, we go to therapy or write in a journal. But they don't just go away. I try to focus on the fact I feel strong and healthy and not like someone who has cancer at all. I walk everyday and listen to my music very loud. Upbeat music that makes me envision myself exploring different parts of the world with Aaron, going on some wild adventure, or doing something fun with the kids. Music that makes me want to shout the lyrics and dance until my legs give out. I go out of my way to occupy myself in a way that I don't think about cancer at all. I feel normal in those moments and I try to make as many of those moments as possible. So I try to embrace life now, cancer and all, but it's not easy and I fail horribly sometimes.
The other night I cried. And Aaron sat with me and just let me cry. It was almost Audrey's 1st birthday and as happy as I felt for that day coming up, I also felt so angry. It turned my stomach to think of leaving her before she would even remember who I was. She's only one years old and I have a foreseeable death sentence. Fuck cancer! The more I cried, the angrier I felt. I screamed, threw my glass, it broke, and I sat on the floor in our room and cried some more. Thankfully the kids didn't wake up. At that moment all I felt was self pity and pity for Aaron and the kids that they have to deal with this too. After a few moments the tears dried up and I felt like I could breathe again. Aaron, sitting on the floor with me, joked how it was too bad I couldn't somehow mutate and become invincible so my body would be cured of cancer, kind of like Deadpool. But without all the torturing, of course. And besides, who doesn't want super powers? It broke the heavy atmosphere. We picked up broken glass and although feeling foolish for losing my cool like that, I now felt relieved. Relieved of the heavy emotions I had been at war with all day long while trying to plan a birthday party for a little girl. Moments like that are inevitable, I think. All we can do is get through it and get up and move forward the best we can.
As for today, the sun is shining and the wind is gentle. Down by the water we collected sea shells and watched little baby crabs dart in and out of rocks. Tristan held his arms out to the ocean, clearly amazed by the vastness of it. I saw this and appreciated his wonderment. And I thought about how much I love life. I love it and I'm not hateful that I have cancer. I still struggle with the anger, but I'm not hateful. I love living and I love feeling alive, not just breathing, but truly alive. The feeling I get when I'm in nature or when the kids and I are having a laughing fit. That type of alive. Cancer doesn't stop me from living life. It has created a shadow that hangs over us and has made me truly understand what disappointment is, but it has not and will not take away my love of life. In this process I'm learning just how important relationships are. We need to let go of the toxic ones, repair the ones that are worth saving, and love and appreciate the good ones. Don't wait until you're ill to really see the people around you. Don't wait to get to know them, don't wait to see their young wonder at the world, and don't wait to tell them you love them or show them you appreciate them. Don't let others negativity wear you down or put up with toxic behaviour.
I'm learning to really open my eyes. Seek out the simple and beautiful things you might normally not notice. The trees swaying in the wind or the shape of the clouds. It's fucking hard to be positive all the time. So don't. But don't let life and meaningful relationships slip through your fingers. It is so very important. For me, that's letting cancer win. These things take a lot of courage and bravery and I'm not saying I've perfected it by any means. Not even close. But I'm working on it. It's a steep learning process.
So where do we go from here? This journey is an unstable road full of twists and turns that is incredibly hard to navigate at times. I know for myself and my family, we need to take a deep breathe and keep trudging forward. We rely on those willing to help along the way and fill our hearts with gratitude and love whenever possible. I'm not always strong and I'm not always positive. Some days I'm down right scared and some days I'm very angry. But we keep trudging forward, hoping for new treatment options and renewed strength.
Some days all I want to do is listen to my very loud music and dream of wonderful things, like grandbabies and old age. That's okay too! Plus, I never have to go very far for a hug or a good, soul warming snuggle. These are things cancer can never take away.