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My All-Too-Honest Answer to ‘What Do You Do?’ as I Recover From Cancer

It’s not that hard of a question. And it’s one I had gotten pretty good at answering. I was working for a great school district, pulling out my degree in education and getting back in the game after being at home raising mangy boys for a decade.

It’s not like we have fallen off the face of the Earth; it feels more like we slept through a year. I have gaping holes in my memory of the boy’s sporting events, their academics in general, holidays and conversations with my husband, Brian. It’s like I had partial amnesia from December until the past few weeks.

So this simple question — asked in all politeness as the starting point of the most basic of conversations — seemed hard. Because I couldn’t find the answer.

“What do you do?”

Huge, long, awkward pause. And then, because it’s the only way I know how, I gave an all-too-honest answer that I’m sure had she and her husband planning their exit strategy.

I’m not sure I had told her. I’m healing. I’m recovering from a wee bit of cancer and trying to figure out our life again. I don’t know what I do. I’m sure she could see the wheels flying in my head as I tried to put into words our new existence. Because it does feel new. Nothing after cancer feels the same. It might in time, but I’m not relishing that moment. I love the new perspective and intimacy that has been gifted to me. I work to hold on to it.

So I sit on my couch and read Jojo Moyes novels. I sit on the same couch and enjoy my new wallpaper. I snuggle with a fat pug and a beautiful golden and make conscious decisions to save up my energy reserves so those three boys that matter most get the best of my love when they return home.

Photos. I take pictures of beautiful kids and beautiful families. Yes, I’m snapping away and earning some Target money, but I’m the recipient of a deeper joy from these images. I’m capturing life. Life and laughter and love. How I wish that I had taken the time and money to get a great family portrait while I still had hair.

Yes, for vanity’s sake. It will be years before I look like myself again. But also because our photo history is forever marked now by the before and after of cancer. And in our house, the onset of cancer brings the memory of the onset of epilepsy. And hearts changed and matured by having to muddle through too much in one year. So I wish I had taken a picture of simpler times.

I try to be more purposeful in the allotment of my physical and emotional resources. I feel overwhelmed with the repayment of the good. Yes, I understand that it isn’t a direct exchange. I will never match person for person the help that we have been given. So paying it forward will be our pleasure for now and the rest of forever.

I pray more. I read my Bible more. I pray out loud for my kids while I embrace them more. I want them to hear the promises I know to be true for them. I can’t handle if one other person gets sick or injured in my home, so I ask God extra hard for these things. Huge guardian angels around my boys and that dog with a very small brain who is a danger to himself.

It won’t be like this forever. Six months from now I will really need a better answer. But for now this is enough.

Heather Koelling the mighty.1.jpg -001

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