Thursday, November 24, 2011
Day 567: It's 2011, not 2010, and I'm Thankful
Can anyone take a wild guess as to what I'm thankful for this year? I mean, outside of the things that I and most other thinking people are usually thankful for, including my family, friends, job, roof over my head (and another one five blocks away that we will apparently never sell), etc.? If you're struggling to imagine it, I'll help you out a bit.
I'm thankful to have made it here, first of all. There was a time last summer when I wasn't sure about that possibility. I'm thankful that as far as anyone knows, there isn't any cancer in my body right now. I'm thankful that this Thanksgiving I felt well enough to cook the huge meal myself, albeit for only five people (two of whom hardly eat anything, but one of whom is Gabe, and he counts for at least four), and with only one oven to boot. I was worried about this last part, since I had a double oven in the old house and cooking thanksgiving there was much simpler for the four years I hosted there. I'm thankful my husband and I have had nine Thanksgivings together and that he claims that after all this time he still isn't used to me, he still gets excited just to be around me. I'm thankful that I have been able to see my kids age another year, my son's hair get crazy curly, and my daughter become a geography wiz. I'm thankful that my son is still young and sweet enough, in spite of all his rough, manic insanity, to call to me after I put him to bed: "Mommy--rub my back?" I'm thankful that my daughter asks me to braid her doll's hair, knowing that I am not great at that kind of thing, but wanting to bond with me in some fashion anyway. I'm thankful for the family members who call to say Happy Thanksgiving, and I'm thankful for chic new haircuts. I'm thankful that I am not where I was at this time last year, as evidenced by the picture that you see here: in the middle of my fourth or fifth week of radiation, when my skin was starting to really get pink, in the throes of chemo-induced menopause, with that god-awful chicken little hair coming in and sharpie and tape slapped all over my torso.
I'm thankful, this year, for eyebrows.
So I just wanted to get that out of the way, lest you think I've forgotten how far I've come or what I am aware might be waiting for me again come some future November. It's kind of strange to be a cancer survivor on Thanksgiving. There's this added pressure to be constantly in the moment, to be living living living all the time and grateful. There's this idea that we, the somehow fated ones, understand what life is about, and other people don't. But I think that other people do understand life, and appreciate it, especially at this time of year.
I know I did, I always did. I was always a very content person, perhaps too content even, no world-beater here. I am still that person. If I wasn't sitting here writing this blog I would be lying on the couch with Gabe drinking some warmish champagne left over from our food-coma-inducing meal, with his hand resting on my foot or some other random gesture of married-people affection, unsuccessfully trying to stream the football game that's only playing on the NFL network while the kids sleep peacefully upstairs, and I would be totally happy. I dare say I would be totally happy to do that if I had no reason to sit down and write this blog--I would love that moment, this moment, whether I had survived cancer or not.
I used to complain about small things, I used to be impatient, I was prone to being difficult and stubborn. Full disclosure--cancer didn't make Katy Jacob an easy woman, not in any way. I don't know what cancer made me, or if it made me anything. I am present in this body all the time now, aware of it in an almost painful sense. I'm just not sure that I haven't always felt that way. When I check to make sure no one's looking while I'm on my walks in the early mornings, and I clamber up onto the hillside of some rich folks' lawn and kick the leaves that the landscapers left behind, I am not thinking about cancer. I am thinking about that fall 27 years ago when I lost the ability to walk. I'm thinking about that time as well when my hips ache with the rain, and, I suppose, I now add to that thought the possibility of metastatic cancer to the bone. When I stare at this computer for a long time and don't have any seizures, I'm thankful for that. I don't know if cancer gets the credit for my being happy about how this body works--maybe suffering of any kind would suffice just as well. Maybe we all should be thankful to have suffered, and survived.
I am definitely thankful that I'm not the only one who feels this way, who gets lost in my body's possibilities at inopportune moments. This morning I went to a sold-out spin class, and except for one high school or college girl who was there with her mom, I was the youngest person there by at least five years. I loved spending an early Thanksgiving morning with all of these folks in their forties, looking like they could all kick some twenty year old's ass at any moment. I loved that I could sprint faster than many people, including the teenager, but a woman at least ten years older could sprint much faster than me. I was talking to another woman at the class about how crazy it was that so many people came out for this, and she agreed, saying her husband told her she was nuts for going. I said mine might have thought the same thing, but hey, this is what I do to relax--I exercise. She laughed, this woman who is a six year triple negative, BRCA positive breast cancer survivor who has undergone a double mastectomy and complete hysterectomy, and said "I know that's right. A little time to not have to think about your life, right?"
I'm thankful for people like her, who get it. Sometimes you just want to be at home in your working body, without having to think about it. Ignoring your good health is a luxury that too many people can ill afford. I'm also thankful for little signs, little glimmers of the thing I never talk about with breast cancer, because everyone else does it for me so nauseatingly well: hope. After the class, I dropped my reusable plastic water glass, the purple one given to me by the Lurie Cancer Center at Northwestern, and it broke. Is someone trying to tell me something? Is my time with the purple over? I'd like to think that's what that meant, but shit, a broken glass is just a broken glass, right?
And a happy Thanksgiving is just that as well, my absolute favorite day of the year, full of family, food, and football. This thanksgiving is better than last year's, simply because I don't look or feel subhuman and I am past the uncertainty of the long-term effects of treatment. I could say that I am no longer worried that cancer will return, but that would be a lie. It would also be a lie to say that last year's Thanksgiving was somehow that much worse--it really wasn't. It was still family, food, and football--during cancer treatment. That's a part of life too, for a hell of a lot of people, and nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to will away through our insistence on relativity. The life you have is one to be thankful for, not because it could be worse, not because it might get better, but because it just is. It's the only one you've got.
Happy thanksgiving, everyone.
P.S. And to Maggie Daley, who passed away just a few hours ago from metastatic breast cancer, thank you for almost ten years of public surviving, being yourself, showing folks how it's done. So Chicago.