Thursday, May 4, 2017

Day 2,424: Seven Years and Counting



Seven years ago, I sat down and wrote some things, because I didn't know what else to do. Here are a few of the lines I wrote back then--before I knew what was in store and that I would have to go through it all again--in no order of importance:

I never thought that I would write a blog.
The question I have now is, where is that do-over button?
You can ask me to change everything in my life, but you can't ask me to do it all at once.
I have breast cancer.
I need to tell myself and both my kids that I will beat this thing and be around to argue with them when they're teenagers, so they can hate me and resent me for some reason other than dying.
Your body's just on loan, after all, and sometimes you go through a major financial crisis with it.
After all, the world keeps spinning.
It was strangely comforting to find out that people are still assholes.
I have never taken my health for granted.
I've dodged a lot of bullets and lived a happy, mostly healthy, life.
I don't want to think my luck has run out.


I had no idea what to say, what to do, what to write, what would happen, who I would become, or whether or not I would survive. I had no idea that I would have to do this twice, at least. And yet, looking back, it seems that I laid the framework on that first day for everything I was going to try to say over the next seven years. There was just no way for me to know that at the time.

I never thought that I would write a blog.

And, looking back, I'm not sure I was ever very good at it. Is this venue really a blog? These long rambling essays, which always appear to be about one thing but are in fact about something else entirely--usually the concept of false meritocracy, and how no one "deserves" the life they lead, good or bad, and often about how what we should be striving for is that one perfect moment of grace, not of beauty or success or even goodness, but grace, making ourselves lowly and unassuming and understanding--are these blog posts? Does it matter? I never thought I would write a blog, but I never thought I would need to. This blog did so much for me. It allowed me to write down stories for my children, to write long love letters to them. It enabled me to tell people what was going on with my health without having to go through the painful process of actually talking to them and seeing the terrified looks in their eyes--or, worse, the discomfort. It brought me closer to my husband, as I said things here that I would never say out loud, not being overly sentimental. It taught my family and friends things about me that they never knew, because I kept so much to myself all my life. It helped me understand what the hell had happened in my life, and why it mattered. I wrote about one kind of trauma and learned how to write about all the others. This blog made me feel that I was good at something. This blog gave me a reason to write about things that seemed small or absurd--stories about people puking, kissing my gynecologist, waiting for an elevator, talking to a technician, and so many others--that were actually some of the most profound moments in my life. This blog has provided me with a lot of opportunities for last lines, and I'm good at those.

The question I have now is, where is the do-over button?

Ah, but there isn't one. And if there was, I know now what I didn't know that I knew then: I wouldn't use it. Any guilt or remorse for the way I am and the way I have behaved, any sense of how I should have been better, has never come to me. I didn't come here to apologize.

You can ask me to change everything in my life, but you can't ask me to do it all at once.

This is one of the most adult lessons of all. We have to learn to suffer and celebrate incrementally. This is especially true if other people rely or depend on us. We can lose it, but not entirely. I wrote about my struggles in this blog, but I downplayed them at the same time. I wrote about cyclical depression, and even PTSD. But in other ways--I didn't. I didn't necessarily detail how it felt to feel so adrift, all while having to keep so much together. I never wrote much about the absurdity and the physical difficulty of starting a new job based in another state just weeks after an amputation and into the first round of chemo. I didn't write about how I never drank before cancer, or how I felt like leaving everything behind. I had trouble relating to people, who had trouble relating to me. Even when I did write about the hard things, I rarely just said it: This is hard. This is hard. I don't know how to do this. No one knows how to do this, or anything else. We're here for a minute and then we're gone and that is true all the time, every day, and I am always aware of it and always have been and it's hard. I had a mark on my back and a bullet at my head and I learned to live with it. I've always lived with it, which helped. But you walk differently, you talk quieter. You change. Some people never forgive you for it, but death is so close you find yourself unable to remain angry with them. You remain angry in general, however, all the time. Your anger defines you. Wait, that's not true. My anger defines me. I won't generalize to you. You are probably an altogether lovelier person than me. I might have had to do things differently, but I did things. I stayed...me, for better or worse. That means that I stayed angry and stubborn and impatient. If I have good qualities, I think I maintained those too. I morphed into the Katy I am today, but there was a core Katy there all along. I changed, but incrementally.

I have breast cancer.

If you haven't had to say that you have cancer, you don't know how hard it is, and I hope you never learn. I said it right away, and I was never in denial about it. It might still be true about me. I hope not, but I don't know. Breast cancer changed my life, in almost every possible way, and yet...it didn't. Breast cancer is a disease, not an injustice, it is a thing that happens to so many people that there is no reason it wouldn't happen to me. I have always said that, from day one, and I still fully believe that. The tragic things that happen to people happen to me, they happen to you. They don't happen to someone else. We are all someone else. It isn't a game, and it isn't a contest, and the goal isn't to win, it is to survive and to feel empathy for others.

I need to tell myself and both my kids that I will beat this thing and be around to argue with them when they're teenagers, so they can hate me and resent me for some reason other than dying.

We're getting there. They are 11 and almost 8. Can you believe it? They were 4 and 11 months old when this started. Their lives were forever altered by having me as their mother. My son in particular does not know how to have a mother who did not have cancer. His frame of reference is built on that. His night terrors and anger and wisdom beyond his years come, in part, from that. My daughter thinks about resilience differently, and often. She is overly fond of long hair. She doesn't seem to give a damn what other people think about anything. I think some of those things are related to growing up with me. My kids aren't afraid to talk about death, and dying. They don't believe in God but my son believes in reincarnation, and there are so many things about him that make me almost believe it too. My daughter believes you can talk to people when they're dead. But why wouldn't she? I've written here that she has told her brother: "She will always be our mom. Even when she's dead." But she also yells at him for coming in her room unannounced and is getting moody in her preteen years, and he is always going on about how "we don't understand what it's like" so I feel like we are making progress, and they have a mom, not a cancer mom, after all.

Your body's just on loan, after all, and sometimes you go through a major financial crisis with it.

This--this has been a defining theme in my life. Every part of my body has stopped working at some point, through cancer, epilepsy, my car accident: my legs, brain, heart, arm, lungs, hair, my eyes. I don't see a body, of any kind, whether conventionally attractive or not, as anything but a vehicle for mySELF, which is not defined by my body. My body is not a temple or a work of art. It is not a battlefield. My body has hurt and people have hurt it. I have felt great physical joy and accomplishment. But my body is just a body, and it is not here to be celebrated or condemned outside of the context of being the shell that means I am not dead. I do not take credit for it nor do I feel guilt because of it. I do not feel inferior or superior because of my body, and neither should you. My health is a stroke of luck, along with my illness. I no more deserve to die than I deserve to live. This isn't about what we deserve.

After all, the world keeps spinning.

It does, no matter what is happening in your world, which is impossibly small and not altogether interesting. So...write about the wider world, write about the people you witness. Take your place in this dizzy messy space, and learn to make light of it.

It was strangely comforting to find that people are still assholes.

They still were, still are, always will be. It gives me something to fight.

I have never taken my health for granted.

And neither should you. I've cheated death five times but I don't feel proud, or cheated. The first time I was four. The second time, nine. The third, 24, and then 34 and 37. The only thing I learned is that any age is too young to die, or that at least I hadn't yet reached an advanced enough age not to feel that way.

I've dodged a lot of bullets and led a happy, mostly healthy, life.

I said once that all my life, I've looked over my shoulder from the passenger seat of the getaway car, wondering when the gig would be up. I can hear the sirens in the distance, but they haven't caught up with me yet.



I don't want to think my luck has run out.

I didn't want to think it then, and I don't want to think it now. I didn't think 34 years was long enough, and I'm not about to think that 41 years is. There is no reason for me to be here when so many others who are just like me are dead. It's a harsh truth, but a real one. There is also no reason for me to not live. There is no reason for any of it. Our purpose is not to have a purpose, but to find one. Or maybe that's just more mere-mortal reaching. All I know is, I have lived seven years since learning I might die much too young. And even if that still turns out to be true, I have had those seven years. In that time, my son went from being a baby to being a second grader, my daughter started out a preschooler and is soon going to enter middle school. I've lived to see my kids learn how to do about 95% of the things they will learn how to do in their lives. My marriage has lasted longer after cancer than it had lasted when I was diagnosed. I have bought two new houses in these years, started three new jobs, somehow managed to continue to move up in my career, though honestly, of everything, I don't know how I did that. I spent a year not being able to read a single book in 2014, with extreme chemobrain, and I just...hid it. I don't know how I did that, and my employer never knew. But I digress. I made some wonderful friendships in these years, and lost some too. I lost my hair and grew it back and cut it all off again, and I'm done with it, I'm done with the time and the energy hair takes. I went through menopause and puberty. I bought my first car. I visited cities for the first time, and took my kids with me. I got married again, to the same person. I walked out onto frozen lakes and stood inside of dinosaur footprints millions of years old. I learned how to ride a bike, row a long, skinny boat, make a perfect Manhattan, and cry.

I wrote a few things.

One of the things that I wrote is the first 25 pages of a novel I doubt I will ever finish, though I would like to, before I die. I wrote it, like everything, for my kids. I want to let them know that if they don't remember anything else I told them, I still believe that children are just small versions of adults, with all of their own complexities and suffering and joy. I want them to have something to read that is written not for children, but about children, which is different. I don't know why I want them to know this, when they have not yet read any of these words, and I haven't finished or even gotten into writing the other words. I always said that if I wrote a book, I would just write one. I only ever wanted to write one. Maybe I've become superstitious, and I just haven't wanted to finish it, because I can't imagine both being alive and having done that. I don't know. My book has a great title, a perfect ending, a remarkable backstory, and very little in between except a few good lines. Towards the end, I remind the readers/my kids:

Because when you are imagining, you might as well imagine something worthwhile.

The same could be said for remembering.

Seven is a lucky number. They all are, when they're years.



4 comments:

  1. Well said, throughout. Looking forward to reading the book!

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  2. You are so darn likable. Thanks for allowing me to experience your thoughts.

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  3. Thanks you so much for sharing your thoughts.

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  4. As a sign of gratitude for how my wife was saved from CANCER, i decided to reach out to those still suffering from this.
    My wife suffered cancer in the year 2013 and it was really tough and heartbreaking for me because he was my all and the symptoms were terrible, she always complain of abnormal vaginal bleeding, and she always have pain during sexual intercourse. . we tried various therapies prescribed by our neurologist but none could cure her. I searched for a cure and i saw a testimony by someone who was cured and so many other with similar body problem, and he left the contact of the doctor who had the cure to cancer . I never imagined cancer. has a natural cure not until i contacted him and he assured me my wife will be fine. I got the herbal medication he recommended and my wife used it and in one months time he was fully okay even up till this moment he is so full of life. cancer. has a cure and it is a herbal cure contact the doctor for more info on drwilliams098765@gmail.com on how to get the medication. Thanks for reading my story

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