During one of my many oncology appointments, my oncologist told me that one day this would all be behind me. He said I would barely even remember having cancer.
I laughed—a sad, sarcastic laugh. Impossible, I thought.
As the days pass, it does become easier to imagine. There are even stretches when I forget the quiet depth of my sorrow. Was I really all the way down beneath the waves? Was it really that hard to breathe?
Yes. It was.
My scars remind me. Five slices tell the short version of my story. One small slice below my left collar bone, the port scar, the point of entry for chemo. For 361 days it lived there, shallow, beneath my skin. And then there are the two half-moon slices under the curves of my missing breasts and two more small lines just beneath each of my armpits where the drain tubes were placed after surgery. Five slices.
There are days when I remember. Dreading all doctor’s appointments. Even canceling my kids’ dentist’s appointments out of my newly found hatred for waiting rooms. Every three months walking back into the cancer center for a shot that shuts down my ovaries. My racing heart, my stomach in knots, the quick stab of pain. And the pill that I have to take every single day. The one that blocks estrogen. And the waking up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat. Missing the easy way my body used to belong to me. There are days when I remember.
And there are days when I forget that I’m a cancer survivor. Pushing red Target carts, sipping coffee, frustrated by traffic jams and long meetings. Days when I am too short-tempered with my kids. Annoyed by hundreds of Legos littering the carpet, wondering where in the hell the other matching socks have gone, shaking my head at the laundry that seems to mate and multiply between Sundays. There are days when I forget.
And then I catch my breath. And remind myself about how I prayed for days like this. I begged and pleaded to have days like this. This ordinary, extraordinary life.
And then sometimes I get chills. Just smelling the coconut shampoo in my 7-year-old’s hair as I read him Harry Potter. Or feeling the gentle squeeze of my 4-year-old’s hand as we cross the street. Listening to the rain outside the window or seeing my husband asleep with moonlight on his face. I am here. I am still here.
And I realize, I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to separate myself from my five slices, from memories of my ocean-deep sorrow. I sunk deeper into the earth and stretched higher into the clouds.
This week my son Alex had a piece of artwork in an art show at the mall. As he pointed out the details of his picture, I felt my heart in my throat. What if I would’ve missed this? We celebrated with ice cream and gazed up at the sky admiring the clouds. And this ordinary, extraordinary life…felt like heaven.