Life (gifted)

Jun 20

I am back in the chemo chair.  I had a week off, as we were on vacation last week.  I hugged Brad before bed last night and said, “I’ll miss you tomorrow,” as we have been together nonstop during these past days; his presence is home for me.

A stark realization for me is that this is our fourth summer of taking big “memory-making” vacations.  My medical status is a thorn in my (our) side that I can’t get away from.  At the same time, it is not at all lost on me that we are blessed to be thriving in our endurance.  In the four years that I’ve been sitting in the chemo lounge, I’ve watched new patients enter the oncology office.  They are treated.  They sit by me, we talk, we plan, we hope.  The treatment doesn’t work for them.  They die.  That bluntness is not something I get used to; grief is an inadequate word.

And I’m still in the chair.  Still being treated.  New patients continue to come in.  I’m here, we talk, we plan, we hope.  I’m not special; I’m blessed.  Breast cancer tragedies aren’t the only ones I’ve witnessed.  Several children I’ve known have died: a wrenching tragedy, each.  Divorce and debt, diagnosis and death, depression and disaster strike.  And so then, grief–inadequate again.  We all Do Today Well and rise above our own adversity.  The kindness, gifts, and love with which I’m showered makes my burden lighter.  It’s just better when we share life together, and I’m joyfully obligated to look for ways to reciprocate and ripple.

I was reminded this week how blessed I am to be patient zero: I decide how I am coping with my life, and I set the tone for how everyone who loves me fares.  It’s hard, but I like that I have control over that element: my joy.

My favorite part of vacation is that now, when I close my eyes and reflect back, I have new memories with each of the eight people I traveled with.  Teaching little kids to wave-jump.  Counting how many water-somersaults in a row.  Swimming to the bar that is in the pool.  A beach walk.  Counting freckles.  Sunset dinner on the beach.  Discovering a flamboyance of flamingos in the lobby pond.  Laughter through tears.  Diving under waves.  Swimming under a water tunnel.

I keep my rose-colored glasses on, always, I think.  Sometimes I let them slide down my nose and peer over them, viewing the negative elements of the moment from a different viewpoint just to see what it is like.  It’s never good, so I am always quick to reposture myself to see the joy.  It’s on me, after all, not my circumstances.  It’s how I Do Today Well, I guess, the strength of the God I believe in giving me the faith and perspective to see it His way.  There were some disastrous (and I mean disastrous) elements to this trip, but I think we all kept reaching for our rose-colored glasses, making the best of it.  And, it was awesome.  No disclaimer needed; the memories are there as proof.

I enjoyed the individuality of the rhythm of my family in the mornings.  Brad used the quietude to go and work out — a great stress-reliever and mental break for him.  He’s strategic, always: scouting good chairs and exploring on his way to and from.  Maren, who has the internal alarm clock of her father, stole quietly out of bed, tiptoed out to the palm tree view of the patio, and read that thick, thick book that has been intimidating her since Christmas.  She told me she liked the smell of the salt air, and the sound of the waves.  Greta, worn out from spending every waking minute in the water, slept hard and long; watching the soft lashes and plump cheek of my child asleep is a parenting privilege that never gets old.  Our G got every bit of melanin our combined gene pool could give her; she is downright bronze compared to the rest of us even though we all combat the sun in the same ways.

My disease symptoms were mild.  I had somewhat of an energy boost since I skipped one Monday of my chemo drug.  My nails are fragile and sore but holding on.  Photosensitivity was not an issue.  My baldness was a beacon of cancer-awareness to everyone at the resort, and I averaged at least five conversations a day with people who approached me with well-intentioned cancer solidarity topics.  It was fine, and I was grateful that I was mostly approached when my children were not in the immediate vicinity.  As much as I want to be normal mom, I’m not, so the baldness is both a blessing and a curse in that sense.

As my friend and I set out for the pool on our first day of vacation, we walked side-by-side with pool bags on our shoulders: several pairs of flippers, goggles, sunscreen, hats, and all of the family paraphernalia for the pool in our large (nearly identical) bags.  As we walked by another couple I saw they each had a child on their hip; she pushed a stroller laden with three bags, he sported two pool floats in addition to the child he was carrying, and could hardly see where he was walking.  I nudged my friend and pointed: “Look, we’ve arrived at the next stage of parenting.  We’re not “there” anymore.”  She nodded in simultaneously jubilant and nostalgic solidarity and we fist bumped our present and stored up our memories a little closer.

I have the same feeling I did when I sat at Greta’s preschool graduation and Maren’s wax museum presentation: I’m so glad I get to see this.  I don’t wish they were younger, or for years gone by.  It is such a thrill to see them today.  And I think I will be thinking that for every day of our future.

Yesterday was Father’s Day, and my favorite moment of Brad’s dad-liness with Greta was when he was stretching on the floor of the basement as the basketball game started last night.  Greta hopped down from the couch and said, “I’m going to do that too, Dad!”  She gleefully mimicked him as they stretched their muscles and then she went on to do some yoga poses.  Maren volunteered to make dinner last night, and my favorite moment I witnessed between Brad and Maren was how specifically and sweetly he praised her when she set his plate in front of him.  I love the dad he is.  I love how Maren and Greta look up to him.  I know well that hero worship that exists between daughter and father.

As we schlepped through the airport, one of the kids noticed the escalator wasn’t working and announced, “The escabator is broken.”  Another kid said, “No it’s an excavator.”  A third said, “No, it’s an exca–, an esc–”  The first kid interrupted with loud finality, “Lets just call it stairs, guys!” as he tromped down the broken steps.  Memories.  I love them.

Today’s post (my simpleton effort at spreading joy) is in honor of my friend’s son.  His first birthday is today and thinking of the joyful love he brought is juxtaposed with the grief of loss.  Today I will write his name in chalk on my driveway and talk to my girls about him: we celebrate him with joy.  We do today well for Asher, with love.


  1. Penny Kellam /

    As the mother to an angel your postscript brought happy tears of joy that you “get it” and honor Asher in such a wonderful, thoughtful way. Thank you.

  2. Dave /

    Praying, praying, praying. 50 years!

  3. annie /

    This sounds like a lovely summer break. I like how your husband’s presence is “home” for you. Apropos Father’s Day, it turns out that the most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother. Seems like you guys pretty much have this down.

    Happy first day of summer!

  4. Newbyfriend /

    I am so glad that you had a memory making vacation! Great way to start the summer off.

  5. Melissa Pizzato /

    Love you Jen – and the beautiful family you have created xxx

  6. Lisa Smith /

    God be near to Asher’s parents. Thanks for posting Jen. xo

  7. Marsha Vonderwish /

    Thank have blessed my soul today.

  8. Jean /

    I love the visual of re-positioning the rose-colored glasses. Thank you for the reminders of the ways to choose joy. Praying.

  9. Nancy McCarthy /

    You have touched my heart! You have such a way with words! Keeping you in my prayers!

  10. Lindsay l /

    So beautiful, as always. Glad you had a wonderful vacation together!

  11. There is so much beauty in your post, right there alongside grief, loss, hope, and love.
    A girl I used to babysit, now grown and married with a daughter of her own, will be taking that little girl to the hospital next week. They discovered a tumor behind her lung.
    Your posts about how to help are going to be very useful for this sweet family as they work hard to “do today well.”