10 Silver Linings to My Stage 4 Cancer Diagnosis
On a Thursday in December I find myself at the bottom of another valley. Between cycles four and five of chemo. Waiting for the holidays. Waiting for what comes after the holidays. Waiting for the set of scans in my peritoneum and the rest of my body.
Waiting to find out news that will either give me a sliver of hope or reprieve for the first time since my diagnosis, or send me reeling once more into panic and despair.
I honestly have no idea which way this one will go. I have lost all shreds of any false sense of faith that I’ve had all of my life that things will somehow still be OK in the end.
All of my life has been about working toward better things in the future. Now I know that they will not be better. I’ve never experienced that before. It’s an unrelenting sensation that the future will only bring sadness. These words aren’t mine. They are my husband’s.
Cancer hasn’t just changed me. It’s changed him.
What I do know is that those scans will show what they will show. Neither of us have the power or control to change any of it. In this valley of waiting there is uncertainty. In this valley of waiting, we can only look up at the looming clouds and wonder what is behind them.
Since I’m waiting, and the sky seems especially dark, I want to try an exercise. I am going to look directly at those clouds, squint my eyes for a moment and try to find some silver linings. If, for no other reason than that it feels bad to feel bad. And it certainly isn’t helping anything. So here we go.
Silver lining number one is that this experience has re-affirmed that the person I chose to spend my life with was the right one. I realize that nobody in this world has ever loved me more. I realize that he has loved me even during times that I have felt like I have not been deserving of such love.
Silver lining number two: I’m doing parenting OK. And giving them things I struggled to have as a child.
I have brought into this world three of the most unique and spirited children that I could have ever have hoped to imagine. What’s funny is that during the early years of my marriage, I probably could have been talked into not having any at all. I wasn’t sure that I could live up to the ideal of motherhood. I’m still not sure. I proudly wear a T-shirt that says “world’s okayest Mom.” Because I know that I’m not the best. But I do know that I love them all with every fiber of my being. Unconditionally. And I know that they know that as well.
My reward is getting to see the amazing people they are growing into. I am just the right Mom for them. The right Mom to teach my oldest daughter to stand up for what she believes in, to teach my middle child to use her natural social talents for good. To remind her to use her big heart with every action she takes. I am the right Mom to stand up for my son when I see him dumped from preschool to preschool because he is challenging. To get him the diagnosis he needs. To get him the support and treatment he needs. So I can fight for him when teachers label him. So that I can lift up the self-esteem of a boy who has been programmed to believe that he is “bad” and has begun to stop trying. So that I can see him grow into the confident, happy, and gifted third grader that I see today.
No, I am not the world’s best mom. But I am the world’s best possible mom for my kids.
Silver lining number three is that my kids are old enough to remember me when I am gone. It breaks my heart to hear from other young mothers diagnosed with cancer with very young children or babies. They don’t know whether they will be here long enough for their kids to be old enough to remember them. Just thinking about that breaks me.
Silver lining number four is that my husband will take care of them when I’m gone, and continue to steer my children to the best possible versions of their amazing selves. Because he is the world’s best dad for them.
Silver lining number five is that I’ve stopped caring what others think about me. I don’t care whether you, reader, like this blog post, or whether somebody thinks I am oversharing. Or whether somebody thinks I am handling my diagnosis the right way. Do you hear that reader? I don’t care. This is me. I spent a good deal of my life suppressing me, because I thought that letting myself out could only result in a rejection of that me.
Guess what? There’s no time left for that nonsense. Like me or don’t. Love me or don’t. This is the me that I’ve become. What life and pending death have made me.
Silver number six: The silver lining to the awful, seizing trap that is a stage IV cancer diagnosis is a form of complete freedom. I am freer because I now have less to lose by taking risks than ever before.
Silver lining number seven: I have discovered and seen so much love and so much goodness from others in the past few months. Before this, I honestly didn’t think that many people outside of my family unit — the one I created — cared about me. What’s more is that I convinced myself I didn’t care that they didn’t care. Because I didn’t need it. I had made some grand deal with society that I would always take care of myself. And I didn’t need to depend on others. That mindset came from my chaotic childhood, and I spent my adult life trying to find little ways to challenge that belief. I succeeded a bit, but I let myself off too easy so this growth was slow.
Impending death sped that up quite a bit. I had a sudden, overwhelming fear of dying alone. Of going out as a single drop. One that would reach the end of my household and then dissipate into nothingness. I would then be only a story of what happened to Lonnie’s daughter to distant relatives. Or a story of what happened to that girl they worked with once. Or a story of what happened to a girl they they knew in school. And life would go on as normal with the turn of conversation. While that is still an inevitable likelihood for many to most of the people who knew me, my silver lining was discovering how many people actually did care more than that. My friends, my family. They offered me hugs and stayed patient with me through those roughest early weeks when nothing anyone said could ever fit what I needed to hear. I discovered that I was loved. And I admitted that I loved them back.
Silver lining number eight is letting go of everyone else. There is still enough resistance in me to refuse to be anyone’s Christian duty or obligation of any kind. I have a knack for weeding out fake people. For weeding out people with selfish agendas. For weeding out people who just want to hear the story to tell someone else. Go rubberneck in someone else’s tragedy. I am not a story, I am a human being.
Silver lining number nine is letting go of spending time on things that don’t matter. Of staying late at work to try to please someone who already doesn’t like me. Or going through emails from every place I’ve ever subscribed to or shopped at, which brings me to…
Silver lining number 10 is doing things that do matter. This is allowing myself to “do” me. Starting a blog that shows people me — unfettered — while giving me an outlet for my emotions. Spending time with friends and family. And letting myself “do” me. I don’t ever tell my kids to change who they are. I just tell them to be their best selves, and to use their unique talents for good. But there has always been an asterisk or excuse for not fully applying that rule to myself.
Me doing me is writing an honest, direct review of a doctor who is not up to par and publishing it because people need to know and deserve better.
Me doing me is learning everything I can do to learn about ADHD, so that I can save my son from being marginalized and making sure that his needs get met.
Me doing me will not be most peoples’ cup of tea. It will make them uncomfortable. They will see any form of directness as a bad thing. It makes lots of people not like me much. But the world needs someone who will do these things, so I’m OK with that. You do you, and I’ll keep doing me.
These clouds are scary, dark and looming. Cancer is hard. Cancer is heartbreaking. Cancer is physically and mentally exhausting. Cancer took away my future. I am sick of cancer.
But if silver linings are all I have? If silver linings keep me together, and keep me sane? I’ll take them. And make the fucking most I can out of each and every one of them.
Getty photo by XiXinXing