Desperate to resume “living” as quickly as possible after finishing chemotherapy in June of 2008, I returned to work – part-time, and in a limited capacity, but returned nonetheless – just three short weeks after my last treatment. In hindsight, it was an insane decision, and I certainly see now how my transition back to reality might have been made easier by giving myself more time to “heal” – emotionally and physically. But I also understand now that rehabilitation following diagnosis, treatment and reaching the promised land called Remission is a long, convoluted process that occurs in fits and starts, and that if I had waited until I “felt like myself” before rejoining the living, I might, to this very day, still be stumbling around in the dark, trying to learn how to live again.
So, I chose to dive back in, (bald) head first. Those awkward first weeks and months were documented only sporadically, but trust me when I say there were many, many ugly moments, tears and feuds a fairly regular occurrence in our home well into the first part of 2009.
Tonight, I find myself thinking back to those days for a very particular reason. I recall so vividly a particular day when – sitting in my office, my feet and legs buzzing from peripheral neuropathy, dressed in the new work clothes I had to buy to fit my emaciated frame – I decided to do a little internet research on adoption. I was barely weeks out of treatment, and my mind was often racing, searching for ways to paper over the cracks which cancer left in my life, and no disruption was more profound than being robbed of my fertility.
I turned first to the website of an adoption organization run by a woman who used to work in the child welfare system and who many of my colleagues knew personally. I printed out all of the information on their process, and I recall distinctly standing at the communal printer, pulling off the pages, my eyes scanning the litany of requirements, all of the details involved. By instinct, my eyes landed on the section about medical history, and my heart immediately started racing. I felt the blood rush to my face, the buzzing in my feet intensify. The familiar vertigo of anxiety gripped me.
It wasn’t rocket science: clearly, it was entirely too soon to be contemplating trying to build a family. At that point, it was hard enough to get myself out of bed each morning and make it through half of a work day just sitting in the office – never mind going to court, running to meetings, writing briefs. Fear and exhaustion still ruled my life. It was no time to think about trying to be a parent.
Still, it was a natural, understandable impulse. And it has, predictably, taken months – years, now – of reflection and resurrection to come to a place where I am no longer haunted by the children I will never have, where I am not choked with anger and sadness every time I think about what cancer stole from me. But instead, to inhabit a place where I feel exuberant, capable and serene.
And so the process is beginning. Slowly, with a certain amount of trepidation, but primarily with great excitement. We have attended our first adoption information session, have another scheduled next week, and just yesterday spent a remarkable afternoon with another young couple whose lives were touched by cancer, and who today are celebrating the second birthday of their incredible adopted son. Hearing their story, and seeing the beautiful family they have created, warmed my heart and sent my mind soaring with possibility. We have our eyes wide open, and even at this early stage have a fairly clear idea of the hazards and obstacles which await us. But we are determined, and undetered.
It’s hard to know exactly when and how we arrived at this place of readiness. The evolution has been incremental, growing out of endless conversation, oceans of tears and sweat, furious pedaling, angry rock-climbing, relentless pounding of pavement. Each day, the lessons of cancer sink a little more deeply into the fibers of my being, leaving me changed in a lasting and fundamental way. Happily, at this moment, the transformation feels profoundly positive, the lessons having left me stronger and wiser. It is a wisdom I long to impart to a child of my own, and finally, after years of heartache, I believe that I am going to have that chance.