Written a week ago.
Life has been seeking it’s new norm, which looks much like the old norm with a subtext running like a slow river under the surface.
Our son graduated from high school this last weekend. Our daughter is wrapping up her first season of water polo and her first year of high school. The garden is tilled. Plants have been bought. A trailer of mulch sits in the driveway waiting to be laid. Family vacation is coming up in June. All is going well. We have been gifted a pretty amazing life.
The slow river flowing under the surface is that even though all is wonderful, everyday I think about how I don’t want the cancer to come back. The world feels the same but so different. I want to get back to focusing on my days fully present on work, kids, home, spending time with my wife. I am present, probably more than I was before my cancer but there is an experience of holding onto moments as so much more prescious than I have ever felt. It’s a lot of feels. With this awareness comes a hope that my experiences will not be limited to my 44 years.
I am taking more time to stop and stare at my wife standing on our back deck in her old navy blue sweatpants, torquoise t-shirt and my maroon crocs – that she made fun of for years calling them “house shoes” because they should not leave the house. She is beautifully framed by our house, our big maple tree with the tree swing. I just want to be in that moment for as long as I can. I want to freeze the moments of planting flowers with my mom. I want to sit and talk to my son like time does not exist and there is nothing to do and no where to be. I want to listen to all my daughter plans for all the things she is doing.
This spring has been amazing. Trees are greener. The timing of the tree blossoms this year are in perfect sync for bursts of white, pink and purple in all their glory at the same time – a rare event so I have been informed. It is magnificent. And the thought comes to my mind – I hope this is not my last spring.
Recently I have been busing myself a lot with work. There has been much to be done with creating the program systems and running the new doula program through the Michigan Prison Doula Initiative. I signed up for White Woman school which is readings and bi-monthly zoom meetings. I also started an instructor training for Evidence Based Birth. I realized yesterday that I have been taking on more work and creating static in avoidance of sitting in my thoughts and dealing with my feelings. For me it is also easier to busy in the things that I “have to do” in comparison to the things I “want to do”. That is not to say I do not want to do all the work I have created for myself – I do. I am finding thougth that the stress or obligation of uber importance that I have schmeared on top of those projects is not necessary.
Reflecting on why I am doing this, the answer came to me – I want to feel like I did something with my life. I ask myself – if this was all the time you had on this earth what did you do? What mark did you leave? Is it enough? What I am realizing is that for me weeding the garden, going for a walk, making art, reading a book are also tasks of value in life – I just don’t totally believe it yet or put value on it.
How do I define a life’s worth? Is it all the work someone did? All the accomplishments they made? Or is it a beautiful garden? Better yet is it just a garden – a labor of love beautiful or not. Or a piece of art they made one day just because. Does the the social worker or scientist have a life of more worth than the stay at home mom or artist? No, but I feel that I am still hung up in the script that society, family, my inner voice, heck I don’t know who wrote the script but it is a strong message of what is of value, that I am having a hard time shaking off.
I know I have some hangups. One is that I love to create art but I have a block in creating the time for something that I find possibly frivolous. I do not like that judgment of my inner critic but that voice is loud – must contribute to the greater good of humanity! I have not totally conviced myself yet that creating itself is contributing. I have created to make money or a gift but creating to create is a tough one for me and a hurdle I would like to conquor. I will find things to clean, work to do, household managment tasks to tend to over just making something. Ideas sit in my head collecting dust because I do not make the time in our busy lives to bring the ideas to reality. I have one piece in particular I have thought about for eight years. It still sits in my head.
My ego is another hangup. How will I be remembered? Is it for the work I did? Will I be remembered as a “good person who made a difference” (and what is a good person)? And then then the balance comes when my inner rebel asks – why does all of that matter? Do I like who I am while I am here? Do I feel like I have lived a good life? Just like most people I think, I would like to feel important and like I made a difference to someone or something.
So getting back to my questions:
- Am I doing what I think I “should” be doing in a mad scrabble to make this life mean something?
- Am I doing what I would like to be doing to feed my soul while I have this body?
- Is there a balance to be found for my soul to feel like I am making a difference while at the same time giving myself permission to be “frivolous” in creating art, or a garden, or just happiness in my heart?
My answers are this:
- Yes I am doing what I think I “should” be doing in a mad scrabble to make this life mean something. This approach also creates a beautiful symphony of static to drown out the fact that I am afraid.
- No I am not doing all that I would like to be doing to feed my soul. I do love my work and learning, that does feed me but that scales are way out of whack and my focus is through blinders.
- I need to slow down and make space for things that may feel vulnerable but feed me. I do not need to have reason to do the things that feed my soul. I do not need to explain or justify my actions other than it brings me joy.
Such a simple concept – it brings me joy. I need to sit with that one. I unfortunately have prefered – is it productive? What does productive mean anyway? I have nothing to prove to anyone, my life is already of worth. More importantly I have nothing to prove to myself, my life already has worth. If this is all the time I have been given, I have used it well. I have amazing kids. I have found love with my whole heart. I have been a good friend and person. This is some hard stuff to lean into but it is all true. I am ok if this is all I am. I am satisfied with who I am today. I hope to have more time to grow, learn, and greate but today I am more than enough.
I have a PET scan on June 5th. I get my results on June 12th. I am nervous. I was not one to have any symptoms of my cancer before they found it so feeling “fine” is not super comforting to me in this post chemo time. Originally they wanted to so a CAT scan but we made a case for a more thorough scan at first. The doctor spent months blowing us off and trying to talk us out of a more thorough scan saying they would watch symptoms and my blood work. That was not satisfying to us as both symptoms and bloodwork were negative and non-existant for cancer markers before an advanced stage 3 findings during my surgery. When I was told my new oncologist ordered a PET scan I was pleased and imediately scared at the same time. Yes, there is part of me that would prefer to be an ostrich with my head in the sand not knowing. Whatever happens though I know we will get through it with grace and humor (I am so lucky to have a solid rock of a partner in that regard – she can bring a smile to most any situation. I love her for that).
It has not been easy to find the new norm. I have heard that some relationships have had a hard time navigating cancer diagnosis, treatment and the after treatment life. Jenn and I are good navigating the rapids and the calm waters but it takes work. Occasionally she and I will just stop and say “I/You had cancer?! That is so crazy.” It is still sinking in. It hasn’t even been a year yet but it feels like two lifetimes ago. We are ready for a clear PET scan and some regular old boring day to day troubles and triumphs. I am putting that request out to the universe but for today I will find something that brings me joy.