As I flipped August up and hooked it onto the nail driven into the back of our pantry door to reveal the month of September, I remembered that at the beginning of the year, I had written “one-year cancer anniversary” inside the square representing the 26th of October. As I stared at September, it struck me that that date was quickly approaching. I slowly lifted September up, and there it was looming before me, and I was suddenly paralyzed. All I could think about was how we should spend that weekend and what might be best for Chip. I am constantly trying to troubleshoot and help us detour emotional potholes as best we can.
Neither of us wanted to make that date into a bigger deal than it was, but we also knew we couldn’t just ignore it. Besides, things like this made it awfully hard to forget:
Did we celebrate the fact he had lived for a year? That seemed like a real bullshit kind of thing for a 32-year-old to celebrate. Yet twice in one day, two oncologists had told us quite matter of fact he had one to two years to live, so maybe a little teeny, tiny yeah! was in order? Did we mourn that day? That Godawful, gut-wrenching day that forever changed our lives?
I couldn’t figure this one out, so I asked Chip what he wanted to do that weekend, and after giving it much thought, he decided he wanted to be with his friends. He wanted to be around people who knew what’s going on and could give him a long leash but would also treat him normally. Chip knew exactly the group of assholes he wanted to hang out with, so he went to work on organizing a weekend complete with playing Xbox hockey until the wee hours on Friday night, a Hangin’ Out™ golf tournament on Saturday, and Sunday was obviously just Patriot Football Sunday, also known as PFS in our circle. It ended up being exactly what he needed.
One thing I didn’t really think through was me. I mean, I kind of thought about what I would do that day, but one or both of us had been out of town for five weekends in a row, and Chip and I had already planned to go to dinner that Friday night while Smitty and Coach Steve babysat the kids … risky, I know … so I guess I thought our usual Saturday routine of soccer, errands, naps and playing, plus the R&R I desperately needed, would be sufficient.
Well, it turns out it wasn’t. It wasn’t sufficient at all. I took Joe to soccer that morning, and it was one of those Saturdays where he had concrete feet and wouldn’t budge from the side of the field. Crosby didn’t want to be held, but she wasn’t yet walking and the field was a giant mud ball from all of the rain we had had earlier that week, so I couldn’t put her down to crawl around on the ground after I had just wrestled her into a pretty little smocked outfit. I was also feeling like poop, because I was starting to get a sinus infection, and all of a sudden, I was overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the weight of it all. I was not present, and I was not grateful. Who was going to take care of me when I became ill? Who was going to help me take care of my kids? As a matter of fact, I hated my life. By the time I got us back home from soccer, the dry cleaners and Trader Joe’s, I could barely stop shaking at the disbelief this was actually my life. I felt so incredibly alone, and I continued to spiral downward.
The realization hit me that I was not able to celebrate this milestone, because I never wanted that day to come. Ever. I just wanted everything to freeze. I wanted time to stand still. If Chip only had one to two years to live, I never wanted the “halfway” point to arrive, because it all felt downhill from there, and I just couldn’t bear the thought. And did I mention I felt like total poop?
From there, as much as I tried to push the thoughts away, I couldn’t help but relive the events from the previous year. Sitting in Dr. D’s office that day, the sweaty numbness that enveloped my body in a matter of seconds, the phone call to my sister Melissa sitting out on our front porch that night. Oh, how I hated to call Melissa, because they had just lost my brother-in-law’s sister, Adrienne Warren May, Delta Gamma at Ole Miss two years ahead of me and mother of two little girls, to breast cancer a few months before. Chip going down to the basement to call his Aunt Julie where they both decided it was probably best to call his parents the next morning as they would already be asleep that night. I can still hear my mom saying, “Who, Sheila? Who are you talking about? Our Chip?” Yes, ma’am. Our Chip.
And I just couldn’t stop. These flashbacks went on for days and days. I relived the biopsy, all of the emails written and received, the exact meals we ate, the doctor’s appointments we had, all of it. It was not until Joe’s birthday party ended, held on November 9th, that the huge weight just disappeared. I could suddenly breathe again. I was thrilled to move forward again, because I am just not one to stay in a funk for very long.
At our dinner date that Friday night, as I was checking into CitiZen on Facebook, I asked Chip what exactly it was we were celebrating, and Chip said, “Our response to this. How we have handled this. I am so proud of us.” Once I was able to, I started to think about that, and you know what? He was right. I am proud of us.
Chip and I attended several weddings of dear friends this fall and winter in Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Princeton, West Virginia; and New Orleans, Louisiana. At one of the weddings, there was a reading from Genesis 2:24: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh.” Later, as they repeated their vows, Chip grabbed my hand as we listened to them say, “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.” I started crying. I don’t think anyone other than Chip knew it as I’ve mastered the silent cry, but I suddenly felt so … privileged? … to be experiencing marriage in its entirety. What an opportunity.
It may have taken me a little while to get here, but I am now at a place where I can say: “Happy Anniversary.” Happy anniversary to us LIVING with cancer for the past year, to us doing some hard-core cleaving, to us remaining true to one another, to Team Kennett, and to Alexandria finally becoming a real home to us.