It was one year ago today that I posted Quakers ask people to hold them in the light through which I informed people that my beloved wife, Leaves on the Current, had just been diagnosed with cancer.
At the time we were preparing to deal with the worst. The preliminary diagnosis was some kind of metastatic organ cancer, she was being sent to the Emergency room for a CT scan before she would be admitted to the hospital, and later that evening we were told to prepare for emergency surgery.
In many ways the night of January 27-28 2013 was the longest we have spent together, not knowing how much longer we might have together.
By the next morning it seemed clear that it was NOT a metastatic organ cancer, and within a few days we knew it was a treatable blood cancer.
In the twelve months since we have traveled a long road, grown together in ways we had not expected, become sobered both by the realization of how lucky we are in many ways and by the realization that despite how well my wife has responded to treatment, we still do not know how long we have together - after all, I am almost 11 years older, and had not done a good job in caring for myself until recently.
Along the way we had a crisis with one of our beloved rescued cats, Cielito, who died in my wife's arms as we were rushing him to the emergency vet clinic.
Yet despite all this, or perhaps because of it, we go forward with a positive attitude.
Sometimes it is with some humor. Although she does not recommend the method she used, Leaves has been able to lose a substantial amount of weight, which very much pleases her.
Sometimes it is by overcoming a certain amount of anxiety - we have come to accept that that we will continue to plan and act as if the future is without a definite limit, even as we acknowledge that we might not achieve the plans and goals we set out before ourselves.
Sometimes it is recognition of opportunities that will place demands upon us - because she responded so well to the radiation and chemotherapy, she decided she would treat her cancer aggressively. Thus she decided on an autologous stem cell transplant to really knock back the cancer. That cost her hair, which is finally starting to grow back. That cost her several weeks of hospitalization and an even longer period of being confined at home with someone to watch over her (thank you STK for being willing to be that person so that I could work).
BEfore the transplant, she was working almost full-time. Now several months after her confinement ended, she is still only back to about 80% of her hours, but we have managed:
- friends at work and in other federal agencies donated leave
- she has superb insurance so we were not crushed by the expenses of her treatment, which are now well into the 6 figures
- we have been the beneficiaries of so much support - prayers, holding in the light, visiting us, sending notes to cheer her up, and more.
The Daily Kos community sent us a wonderful quilt, still very much treasured and appreciated.
One of her close friends made a detour on the way home from a conference in order to spend 30 minutes with my wife.
We both have learned to surrender. For my wife, who is very private in many ways, she has come to accept how much those in the various communities with which I communicate appreciate being updated by my writing. For me, it has been the realization of the support and love offered BOTH of us - I had always accepted that others cared as deeply for her. I especially appreciated the reminders to make sure that as a care-giver I took care of myself.
The most important way I take care of myself is by returning to my life's work, that of teaching adolescents. In August I began at a school 45 miles away. It is very different than what I have known, I have at times struggled and been frustrated. About ten days ago I decided to commit to returning in part because I am making a connection with at least some of my students: it is hard when some of your best students beg you to return so they can again have you as a teacher to deny them. My wife is delighted with that decision. And as Howard Thurman wrote, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” In returning to teaching I have again come alive, and I wish to pass that on to my students.
But I also remembered taking care of myself physically. Four weeks ago today, in part at the urging of our friend STK, I took my first ever yoga class. I was overweight at almost 200 pounds, very much out of shape, often way too tense and stressed. My diet was horrible, I was having trouble sleeping.
After that first class, I bought a one month's pass. I have been taking classes four or five times a week. I gave up beer, ice cream, and meat (except for slowly using up what was in the freezer). With other sweets I cut down on my portions. My lunch now is usually 3 pieces of fruit.
As I write this today, I have dropped almost 20 pounds, my blood pressure and cholesterol are dropping, my stress level is down, I am started to rebuild both strength and flexibility. I sleep much better.
A few days ago I ran into a good friend who is a high government official. The first words he offered is how good I look. I do not look as good as I feel.
Why these words about me? It is because of our dealing with my wife's cancer that I determined I needed to care for myself.
Meanwhile she has begun physical therapy. She hopes eventually to join me in yoga, although that is still months away.
There are still down periods, times when it is hard for her to get going.
There are still things we want to do, to address the clutter that has built up in the house: somehow the piles of paper, as annoying as they are, seem less important than basic caring for oneself and one another.
We still get on one another's nerves, even after more than 39 years together, 28 years of marriage.
Now, in light of the past year, we quickly realize how silly that is, and move on.
We could not have come this far without the love and support of so many of you who are reading these words.
Of course we do not know what the future may hold. We do not know how much longer we will have together.
We are grateful for the past year, even with all of its challenges.
We have grown as individuals.
We have grown together.
Because of that gratitude for the support we have received, we found ourselves more generous towards others.
I think it fair to say we are becoming more open and more loving.
Again, we offer our deepest thanks to all of you for the love and support you have given us. We know we have be borne, carried, upon wings of prayer, waves of love.
We have made it through this year.
We continue to go forward.