The strange juxtaposition

I’ve been thinking about something a lot lately that seems really weird and illogical. It’s that right now our lives are actually the best they’ve ever been, and yet my husband was recently diagnosed with stage 3 cancer and I was declared officially permanently disabled at nearly the exact same time.

My belief in any sort of religion isn’t strong enough to give that the credit. It’s just phenomenally weird, in a quite unsettling way, how much good is occurring at the same time that so much bad is also occurring.

I should be in despair. I’ve definitely had moments where I felt that way but they’re always fleeting. Even though I intuitively knew my husband would one day have colon cancer in specific, I really didn’t think it would be now. I didn’t know what it would feel like to hear an oncologist say my husband’s cancer is the worst case he’s seen in a couple of years.

I didn’t know what it would be like to see my powerful husband who can do anything brought to a point where he can’t, in fact, do everything. He’s still pushing himself and helping out a lot and going to work every day, at least until he starts the chemo. Yet he needs a lot more rest than he used to, which is a big change.

But just the fact of his colostomy alone will likely permanently affect his ability to do things he used to, like trying to fix his own car. Now that we got him a better car, he’s covered by warranty for three more years. But I also think that particular type of fixing stuff himself is probably over forever, which I’m sure he won’t mind since he never liked fixing cars.

As for the scary worst-case scenarios, though, my mind just doesn’t go there. I don’t know if that’s denial or if I disciplined my mind to stop expecting catastrophe, but I just don’t think the worst-case scenario will happen any time soon. Yet that doesn’t mean that the fear is ever completely gone, either.

Then there’s my health. The stress of my husband’s diagnosis and nine-day hospital stay brought back my MS symptoms so badly I finally had to get a cane to help me walk.

I realize how much false confidence I had, since I really believed that my vast improvement due to exercise meant I had total control over my health. I really believed I’d start grad school this fall with the intention of working as a full-time therapist. I didn’t think I’d ever feel my MS symptoms again, quite honestly. Yes, that sounds naive to me now as I read it.

Seeing how my brain and body reacted to my husband’s illness and hospitalization made me realize that I can’t actually have any type of significant stress in my life. I’m already doing too much right now as it is. My disease is not actually something I can control very much.

And so, between my husband’s terrifying diagnosis and the reality of my own disease, things should feel scarier than ever. And in many ways, they do.

And yet, there’s also this irrepressible gratitude for everything else in my life that’s just naturally occurring at the same time. There have been times in my life when I genuinely just had a shitty attitude and really had to work to feel gratitude. But this is gratitude I don’t have to cultivate.

There are so many good things in the midst of the bad. For the very first time in our 25-year marriage (as of our anniversary tomorrow), we both have decent, newer, reliable cars.

We are in a house that we like that has enough space for us, even with an office for me to do my writing. Our kids actually all have their own bedrooms, which we weren’t ever able to give them until three years ago. As a result, they really value having their own spaces a lot.

My husband is making more money than he ever has and works for a company of really good people. He got diagnosed with cancer six weeks after starting the job and he’s had nothing but support. A lot of employers wouldn’t have been so understanding, especially with such a new employee.

I was approved for disability far easier than I expected and I didn’t have a long, difficult fight to get it. Of course, that also means that I’m really legitimately sick. But I have that guaranteed income to fall back on. Although it’s not a huge amount, it’s enough to make a significant difference–especially because right now I also have enough freelance work that it’s maxing out my allowable earnings on disability.

My kid who has gender identity issues is finally feeling more comfortable in his skin. He’s paying for therapy out of his own pocket, having thoroughly researched the right therapist for his issues. I can’t tell you how pleased and proud I am that he’s both pursuing therapy on his own and that he’s finally moving toward coming out publicly and changing pronouns and all that. I’m grateful that he was born into our family since my husband and I and our other kids all just accept him as he is.

My middle son is about to graduate high school in a couple weeks. Because his older sibling didn’t graduate and instead got a GED, this is the first time I’ll get to witness one of my kids graduate. He’s not going to college yet because he’s sick of school and said that would just be a waste of money, but he has a good alternate plan and I’m not worried about him.

He will also finally get the payout soon from his lawsuit against the driver who hit him five years ago. It’s not a huge windfall, but it’s enough that he can get himself a used car and start a pretty substantial nest egg.

My youngest is trying hard for a National Merit Scholarship to get his college fully paid for, because he knows where he wants to go and what he wants to study. It’s a lucrative field but he still wants to avoid college debt. He’s just got great plans for his future and is super motivated. He wants to get a job this summer and already start saving for retirement.

My kids are adults or nearing adulthood and I can see that I managed to raise bright, capable young people. They have a better understanding of how to handle money than I did because I never hid my mistakes or the results (at an age-appropriate level and with some secrets, of course.)

They understand when it’s time to pitch in and help the family, like now. I don’t have to nag about chores anymore. They now manage their own laundry and volunteer to wash the dishes. I can’t say I did everything right–I know I didn’t–but somehow I have these competent, compassionate, well-informed young adults and I’m just in awe of that.

I repaired my relationship with my parents. It may never be exactly what I want it to be and I can’t live in the same town again. But I value their company and recognize the good traits they gave me. I’m so grateful I got to go back for a visit last fall because my husband’s cancer would definitely mean I couldn’t go this year.

For the first time in a long time, we can stay current on our bills and get a little extra and have money for some little conveniences here and there. When it comes to money, we can finally breathe, which is largely because I got disability and am doing freelance work on the side.

I have hope.

Even in spite of my husband’s cancer. Even in spite of how bad my mobility is getting and how much I hurt.

I could spout all the Instagram-worthy quotes about how suffering is a choice and you’d probably roll your eyes. Yet it’s also true. This is simultaneously both the best time of my life and the worst time of my life.

But the point is that I really feel alive. Like this is the point of life itself: to be in the midst of great suffering and fear, yet to also be profoundly grateful at the same time.

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