Many weeks ago, as I walked the neighborhood with my new baby snuggled in his Moby wrap, a woman coming out of her car stopped us with a smile. She peered in at Earl’s tiny face.
“What a beautiful baby,” she said, all sincerity. She kept smiling as she walked toward her front door. “Lucky you.”
Those words have been reverberating inside my head ever since. Luck seems an especially strange concept now, as I consider how life has transformed since becoming a mother, and how that transformation is tied to my status as a cancer survivor.
What is luck? What is fated? How does one incredible blessing – welcoming a child as beautiful and magical as ours – balance against the curse of what preceded his arrival, and the fear that more cancer may be lurking around the corner?
When I was diagnosed with Stage III ovarian cancer, people would say, “You’re lucky they caught it so early,” when in fact “they” had not. Even as my treatment progressed and my prognosis improved, it was difficult to understand how my situation could be construed as in any way fortunate. In those long, dark months, it seemed my entire life had been exploded – any conception of a future, of living fully, was obliterated.
The months unfolded after treatment finished; once the paralyzing depression was brought under control, once joy was rediscovered, and once I saw what was happening to my friends and acquaintances with cancer, the reality of my good fortune slowly asserted itself. People my age were dying – lots of them. My genes are wonky, and I’ll be getting colonoscopies like clockwork for the rest of my days (however many of them there are), but once I emerged from the post-treatment darkness, I understood with clarity that this was not my time.
This week marks the one-year anniversary of the death of my friend Sarah Feather, after a prolonged fight with ovarian cancer. She left two beautiful boys and a devoted husband – not to mention countless friends and relatives. She was blessed with love beyond measure; for whatever cruel reasons, her good fortune did not extend to her cancer struggle.
Recently, I’ve come into come contact with several other young women battling advanced gynecologic cancers. I’ve listened to their stories, and shared my own. From this place, as an ecstatic mother of a beautiful boy, living fully and happily, it feels strange – but necessary – to harken back to the days four years ago when the darkness was all-consuming, when fear ruled the day. I want to give these women hope, but their fortunes remain unknown. There is nothing I can do to change that. As the words tumble forth, as I try to offer consolation, I feel my hands are tied.
As we waited to adopt our son, blind faith was the order of the day. Any sense of control was illusory. We turned our trust over to our agency, and hoped that somehow our story, our wait, would connect with a mother looking for the right family for her child.
What has happened for us, becoming parents to Earl, is beyond miraculous. Was it luck, or something larger? Did the Fates award us extra credit for having endured cancer, and bless us with a magical baby? Almost everyone who meets our child remarks on his extraordinary beauty, the intangible aura that surrounds him, the brightness in his eyes. Cancer deprived us of the chance to make our own child. Perhaps, then, we’ve been given the chance to love and raise this little boy, as some kind of cosmic balancing of the scales.
Instead of being angry about the toll that cancer has exacted on so many young people and their families (which I usually am), I prefer in this moment to be naïve, and hope that everyone who has confronted the nightmare of cancer will one day know such a reversal of fortune, and be given a second chance to live the life they have long dreamed.