Something is changing. Perhaps it is simply that the passage of time breeds perspective. But something must be owed to hard work and hopefulness, and the steadfastness of friends and family.
This past Tuesday marked four years since the beginning of the week that started my cancer journey. These are dates that will be forever burned in my brain. This year, though, is the first year that this week completely snuck up on me, not even giving me pause. This feels significant.
On Wednesday, as Mike and I walked off the train, it suddenly hit me: “Hey,” I said to him. “Yesterday was my MRI-iversary. What do you know about that?” I had been to yoga Wednesday morning, and was feeling energized and happy. As the significance of the date occurred to me, there was no quickening of my heart rate, no sinking feeling in my gut, no wave of anxiety washing over me. Just a matter-of-fact recognition of the events as they had occurred, four years ago.
Yesterday, the sense of serenity persisted. I was out of bed just after 5 AM, brewing coffee, hanging out with my dog, enjoying my Twitter feed. I watched Bono’s appearance on The Daily Show from the previous night. I was warm and happy inside my house, feeling snug and secure against the darkness outside. But I felt the life force coursing within me, making me antsy. I decided to go for a run. So on a chilly December 1st morning, I logged 4-plus miles as I watched the sunrise; there are few things more beautiful.
After running, enjoying my endorphin rush, I faced unexpected obstacles as I attempted to get dressed. I first donned a pair of pants purchased soon after treatment, which now sagged around my waist. Feeling absurd, not wanting to spend the day hiking my pants up, I pulled them off. I tried another pair with a mysterious, faint grease stain on the leg, that also suddenly felt weird in all the wrong places. A third pair, recently purchased and washed, fell oddly around my deformed mid-section in a way they hadn’t before. I laughed and sighed as the clothes piled up on my bed. I offered a running commentary to my bewildered basset hound, who watched in confusion. I felt not so much a deformed, menopausal-before-my-time victim of cancer, but more of a fussy school kid who suddenly hates all of her clothes.
A few years ago, this same scene would have triggered so much anxiety, perhaps even driven me to tears. For what seemed an eternity, I was so furious and despondent about what cancer had done to my body, inside and out. Not only was I robbed of a chance to give birth to a child, but my weight fluctuated wildly, taking me from emaciated to beefy, seemingly in the blink of an eye. I felt like a stranger in my own skin.
Thank Whomever for the reclamation that I’ve managed in the intervening years. Thank the Universe for the miles run, for the downward dogs and the first-ever headstand, the gateway to a reviving yoga practice. Thank you for the glorious bike rides. My body is my own again, and not just because I’ve shed some of the unwanted extra pounds. But because of my strength, my resilience, my love of doing this living thing.
But the unexpected wonder didn’t stop with the comedy of fashion errors. Yesterday I also managed to shake of the long-standing Scrooge-like attitude I’ve always had toward our office holiday party. In years past, I’d eschew the whole affair, feeling over-whelmed by the excess of food, averse to the forced small talk, disdainful of the mandatory cheer. This year, though, perhaps because of the influence of my boisterous and fun-loving new officemate, I decided to try on a bit of holiday spirit. I even served as her vocal coach as she worked on her lines for a workplace-specific version of “The 12 Days of Christmas.” (Happy to say, she brought the house down.) “Who is this person?” I asked myself. “And what has she done with Emily?”
In the midst of the merriment, I even spent some time holding and cuddling another co-worker’s one-year-old. And instead of feeling empty inside, instead of wondering, “Where is MY baby? When will it be MY turn?” I laughed and smiled as I patted Patrick’s huge belly. I tickled his nose and held his little hands, and I just thought to myself, how amazing, this little person. And how wonderful it will be when I have the chance to hold my own.
The day, filled with hope and light and laughter, ended so perfectly, when I walked out of work on the heels of my beautiful friend who is days away from delivering her own child. We stood outside in the cooling evening air, waiting for her man to round the corner. I told her, with love in my heart, how I think about her every evening when I get home. (“Is she OK? Is it happening now?? AAHHH!”) Her man arrived, and I shared my shpilkes with him, too, and gave him a big hug, knowing that the next time I see him, he’ll be a Dad for real.
I hugged my friend, too, and as her huge belly pressed against me, I felt the wonder of our friendship mix with the miracle of creation. These people I love are about to embark on this incredible adventure, and I just felt myself bursting with excitement and happiness for them, and so blessed to be a part of their world, and to have a chance to share in the love. It felt momentous to be able to separate my own journey to parenthood from theirs, and fully appreciate the magic of what is happening for them. How powerful to realize, “It’s not about me.”
I can’t even begin to explain why yesterday turned into this ceaseless parade of awe. I can’t account for how I have reached this place of peace. It’s been hard work, all these years, but today, I felt the pay-off so acutely. Tomorrow, on the date when I first met with my oncologist and scheduled my surgery, I will gather with my dearest friends, the same people who surrounded me during that surreal weekend four years ago, after my tumor was found but before my cancer was confirmed. We will drink and laugh as we always do, but I will be sure to raise a glass to them and say thank you. Without what they – and all my friends and family – have given me these past four years, life would not be the delicious mystery which it has become.