A cancer break

Since my husband’s next round of chemo keeps getting delayed, he’s doing remarkably well. Even though his white blood cell count is so low that coming into contact with a virus could put him in the hospital, it’s deceptive how well he seems to be doing.

We had a rare evening together last night that felt like the old days (it’s hard to imagine that when I say the “old days,” I mean just a couple of months ago, before the cancer.)

We had an intimate night of really connecting and also watching shows together. We’ve been rewatching “Stranger Things” in preparation for the new season coming out soon and usually we only have time for one episode a night. But even though I had freelance work to do after I spent time with him, I didn’t think twice when he wanted to watch a second episode.

These kinds of nights of normalcy are so rare now that it’s a real gift to get one and I will take every extra minute of it I can get. That’s the one thing I will say about cancer: it makes you truly appreciate the joy in the most normal things. It makes you realize how much you took for granted everyday life before.

It’s a lot easier to forget about the cancer and the fears when things seem so normal. I’m still sticking in positivity mode, believing that miracles are possible. So many things in my life have felt like miracles.

My son getting hit by a car and surviving it with only some broken bones and a head injury felt like a miracle. (I will forever be haunted by the woman who came into the library where I worked, just a few months after my son’s accident, whose son the same age had also been struck by a car and didn’t survive it.)

My friends came together to raise money for me to move back to Texas, after so many years of struggling with unemployment in Michigan. After my diagnosis with progressive multiple sclerosis, I truly feared that I would die there and that thought made me feel so hopeless. I just couldn’t ever seem to get ahead enough to change my circumstances. The fact that people would help me was so generous that it still touches me. I had to do a lot of hard and scary work but it wouldn’t have been possible without their help.

The very first thing I ever wrote and submitted for publication in a book got chosen. I was on the masthead of two print magazines.

I had to take fertility drugs for my first child and they worked on the very first try. Then I didn’t need fertility drugs at all with my other two kids. My third child truly was a miracle, given not only my fertility history but also the fact that my husband had had a vasectomy.

So I feel like I’ve received a lot of miracles. And I find that I’m expecting another miracle this time with my husband’s cancer. I just think “oh, of course he’ll make it” and I look at these good times as proof.

But I’m also not naive. I know that whenever he gets chemo again, it will take a toll. He’ll be tired again and the light in his eyes will dim as he tries to recover. It’s hard to watch him suffer.

I also know the odds. For his stage of cancer, they’re about 40 percent. But those were the same odds that the fertility drugs I took would work and I beat those.

I’m very much not a natural optimist. I’ve dealt with depression since early childhood. But I have also cultivated a mindset where I expect things to work out for me. That’s not to say they always have: my finances have been a huge disaster at times (see: Michigan unemployment, really high medical bills.) But I am trying to choose to look at the positive, to focus on the victories instead of the failures.

Instead of looking at “40 percent survival rate” from the negative–that it means 60 percent don’t survive–I look at it and think, those are pretty good odds. I’ve beaten them before. There are people on some of the cancer forums who had stage 4 colon cancer (which only has a 14% survival rate) and they’re still here 20+ years later, even the odds said they should have died years ago.

None of this means that I haven’t done the math about the cost of supporting myself if he doesn’t make it or that I don’t ever think about it. But if that worst-case scenario happens, it will be the deepest devastation I’ve ever felt either way, whether I expected a miracle or not. In the meantime, I have to stay away from negative people who increase my fear.

There’s a quote I like, I believe it’s by Albert Einstein and I’m paraphrasing: “There are two ways to live your life: as though either nothing is a miracle, or everything is.” I choose the latter. I feel like it’s the only choice I have.

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