When things come in threes, and none of it is good

My phone buzzed with a text on Wednesday – a long one. From a dear friend of mine who thought he was just taking a loved one for a routine doctor’s visit.

As I processed his message, I felt a visceral reaction. My pulse quickened. I became hot with rage. Tears started falling down my cheeks and I had the strongest urge to bolt up from my chair, race out the front door, and run down the street in front of my house screaming “F*%! cancer!”

Instead, I just sat there, angry and crying, and wrote the words I wanted him to have in that moment.

The day before, a precious friend had texted us that she’d lost a young member of her extended family to cancer. Eight years younger than me when he was diagnosed, and before they could even begin treatments, he was gone. 34 years old, for Heaven’s sake.

And tonight, I was whiling away a few extra minutes before picking up the Girl Child from ballet, when a chance conversation with the sweetest young woman turned to the Big C. She has a loved one dealing with a new and chilling Stage 4 diagnosis. In what strikes me as a terribly cruel twist of fate, it’s lung cancer even though she’s never smoked. Naturally, our conversation very quickly pivoted from customer and shop proprietor to survivor and nervous caregiver. I gave her my information to pass onto her relative, and it will be a weird blessing of sorts if we connect and can help each other in the way only a survivor to a fighter can.

But to focus only on that – on the positive parts that come from this community – is to do all those who are fighting or have fought cancer a huge disservice.

It glosses over the fact that all of this can just be too much, sometimes. I don’t understand the suffering. It also triggers what I (wrongly) presumed I’d already dealt with and filed away – stupid PTSD. I’m almost two years cancer-free for crying out loud! Shouldn’t this be in the rearview mirror by now?

Smiling woman in tulip field

Perhaps. But at least last night, I, who typically turn in at a wild and crazy 9:30 p.m., instead stayed up far later than I should have, Googling things like “Do all cancers come back?” and scouring the most recent academic studies for data on recurrence percentages by years out. I didn’t really find anything encouraging or damning, just a rehash of the stats I’ve practically committed to memory because when I’m scared and uninformed, research is what I do.

Then I prayed. And I slept. Soundly. In the morning, I woke up and snuggled with the dog, who promptly got up, made the tiniest circle that only a dog can, and then curled up into a big ole ball of Leave Me Alone, rump roast square in front of my face. Point taken, I shuffled to the kitchen, started the coffee, and then woke up the kiddos for school.

With everyone out the door, I made my to-do list for the day, freaking killed it at work, and then enjoyed the beautiful mundane-ness of a busy Friday night.

Rubbing my son’s back as we sat side-by-side at a hightop table, waiting for our Cane Rosso pizzas to arrive (Proscuitto and Arugula all the way, baby). Soaking up every detail of my daughter’s day, even celebrating the part when she talked about Career Pathways and Interior Design and how (gulp) Auburn has a really great school for that. Giving my husband a quick smooch before settling in for the evening (again with the dog, who has decided I am not terrible and now has her stuffed rabbit at my feet while she watches me write).

I will never know if dormant cancer cells are hiding in my body, just waiting to start an angry coup of metastasis that no one will realize until it’s at some horrible, too late to treat point.

I can let the intense feelings come and visit for a spell, especially when I’m processing fresh news of my nightmare realized, to say nothing of the fact that I am hurting for my friends, whose relationships are being snatched away by this elusive disease that can escape all treatments and then, inexplicably, rear its ugly head for one final, life-sucking blow.

But I have to also put those feelings away, and recognize all the good ordinary-ness of the present.

This is my life, and for now, it is good.

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