the mamaversary post
This week I had my annual oncology visit and got the good news I love to hear: #nocancertoday.
After that, it got kind of boring because Dr. P told me about all these errands I need to run. He started talking about what it means to be a survivor, and it was sort of like he whipped out an Inigo mask and said, “You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it does.”
Being a cancer survivor means you’ve outlived the part where everything being done to you is to keep you alive right now. On the other side of right now, when you’re still alive (yay!), you run the risk of finding out the radiation to kill your cancer gave you a new one or that chemotherapy broke your heart. So you have to schedule an echocardiogram, and you have to watch out for normal person decline like suspicious skin things, colon polyps, and cavities. We don’t traipse gently through this messy, beautiful life, my friends. We all fight to survive.
So here I am. I am in a weird time scientists are still studying for information: Surviving. It’s totally unpredictable. There is no telling what will get me now – just like it is for all of us. It could be the effects of cancer treatment. It could be my cancer. It could be a heart thing I remain vague on the details about. It could be gingivitis, if that kills a person. I heard a story once about a woman diagnosed with incurable lung cancer, and they told the kids by saying, “Everybody dies. We just know what Mom is going to die of.” Most of us don’t have that certainty. For now, neither do I.
You are twenty-two today, and as far as parents and kids go: this is the other side.
I kept you alive! Me! You survived the girl who left the room and let you crawl over her hot curling iron one night, the mom who never made you eat the baby food peas instead of the applesauce. You climbed trees and played football without a single broken bone. You survived you, too, by the way – bull riding, mountain hiking, and sticking your arm into muddy river holes without knowing what you’d find there. You survived that.
Until this point in your life, we kind of had instructions, a contract of sorts. I feed you, read to you, and put you on your back to sleep. You stay in school, call me when you get somewhere, and watch for deer. They say parents don’t get a manual in the hospital, but we do. It’s a colorful three-step diagram of the Heimlich.
We’re in another era now. It’s something like jumping off a rope swing, but it probably doesn’t feel like that to you. You’re making decisions and studying for tests and filling out applications that feel defining. You’re getting married and choosing a career, and it must seem like you’re signing on the dotted line of forever. This is Who I Am now. (Apparently.) This is my calling, my purpose, the definition of me.
It’s not true.
“The call isn’t out there at all. It’s inside you.” It isn’t medicine or public speaking or writing or moving pianos or any of the jobs you may or may not have in the big, glorious rest of your life yet to come. Your calling is the you-ness of you. It’s how much you love people and how excited you get about ideas and possibilities. Your purpose is the part of you that makes the decisions, not the decisions themselves.
Watching you strive right now is sort of hard for me because I’d rather life be more fun than this. I don’t like the conveyor belt system our education has created where you always have homework and you’re so busy trying to get somewhere, you can’t feel where you are. I loathe how many tests you guys face. Life isn’t like that. I mean it is – we’re tested all the time – but not like that. Grades are way subjective out here.
I don’t know why I worry, really. You ride bulls and stick your arm in dark river holes and live to tell about it; you’re pretty good at being here. The way you love people makes you pretty good at it, too. You’re killing this survivor thing.
I started this post to tell you what I wish for you, but I think it’s to thank you instead. I will not go noodling. Not once. And the bulls I ride will be figurative thank you very much, but there will be bulls. You stood by my desk recently and you talked about med school applications but also caring for people’s spirits and the possibilities of life, and it was invigorating. I knew you would be okay because you survived childhood and now you’re building a life. You get that it’s a rope swing, and you’re flying.
I’m lucky to know you, frankly. We’re all survivors, and I’m happy we’re in it together.