Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I've tried hard this year to keep my personal life separate from this blog. Well, not all of my personal life, just the parts that can't be tied into writing somehow. That's the purpose of Jacob's Journey--to chronicle my son's journey through cancer.

But now that we've reached the end of treatment and have been launched into the wide world of what-the-heck-happens-next-and-how-do-I-keep-the-cancer-from-coming-back-without-weekly-chemo, I find that my life, all of it, needs to be knitted back together.

To keep from randomly weeping all over my keyboard, I've decided to use the nice, tidy structure of a list to share a few things that come to mind.

1. There is no good way to do cancer. This might seem so obvious as to not need stating, but it was a mantra that got me through self-pity. Whatever the differences of age and treatment and personality--something is always going to suck.

2. And something is always going to be funny. And if it isn't, then make something up. Laughter goes a long way.

3. So does friendship. I do not understand the impulse of some cancer mothers I encountered this year to shut out everyone except those few in their same situation. Yes, having a child with cancer is terrible. So is divorce and infertility and financial stresses and mental illness and dying parents. I needed my friends this year. They saved me. I only hope I can do the same for them when needed.

4. A lesson learned from a high school friend whose daughter has leukemia: "Kids are resilient. Parents, not so much." I saw that over and over this year, every time we'd come home from an overnight chemo and my son would be up and playing computer games with his friends by dinnertime while all I wanted was to sleep.

5. Moms and dads do things differently. Thank goodness for my neighbor and dear friend whose 3-year-old was diagnosed with cancer one month after my son. From sharing stories of our kids and marriages, we realized that a) we are not crazy and b) our husbands are not heartless.

6. That being able to choose what to do with my time is a gift. My biggest fear this year (other than the obvious mother-fear of death) was that I would not be able to do it. I am, by nature, selfish. It is my least favorite thing about me. I was afraid that I would spend this year in a welter of resentment because of the demands on my time and emotions and not being able to do the things I like to do.

You know what? There were a lot of demands. And I did give up a lot of things that are important to me--including writing.

And I did just fine. Because I was caring for those people that are most important to me, above all else. How could I go wrong?

Now I have a new life. I can't go back to the old one--if nothing else, taking my son for CT and MRI scans at regular intervals for the next five years will remind me that my old life is gone. But it's not the life of this year, either. I don't have to take him for chemo once a week or spend the night in hospital every third week or do radiation every single weekday for six weeks or have twice-weekly visits from the home nurse for blood draws or take him to the ER with a fever or take him for transfusion when necessary.

Now I send him out the door to 7th grade every morning, along his with high-school brother and his elementary-school sister and brother. And then I look around my empty house and say, "Now what?"

There's nothing like trauma to force you to look at what you want. Here's what I want:

1. To finish my new manuscript

2. To send it out

3. To begin a memoir of this year

4. To not be afraid of anything--because I have walked the path of every parent's greatest fear and I'm still here.

The night of my son's last chemotherapy treatment, I waited until he was asleep, nearly midnight, and then went for a walk in the halls that have become achingly familiar this year. I can point out the exact spot where my husband and I came together for the first time after hearing the diagnosis. (He had been at home with the younger children when I got the word it was cancer--I had to tell him on the phone.)

Only one thing could ever be worse than that moment, and that would be saying goodbye to a child. Short of that, there is nothing that can happen to me that can come close to that moment. So what do I have to be afraid of?

The following is from the hymn Thou Gracious God Whose Mercy Lends, words by Oliver Wendell Holmes. It's my own hymn of thanksgiving, now and forever.

For all the blessings life has brought,
for all its sorrowing hours have taught,
for all we mourn, for all we keep,
the hands we clasp, the loved that sleep.

We thank thee, Father; let thy grace
our loving circle still embrace,
thy mercy shed its heavenly store,
thy peace be with us evermore.

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