With or without you

I was flipping through radio stations as I drove home last night and a song came on that I recognized within half a second. It was like a punch to the gut, all of the air left my body in one whoosh, and I was transported mumblemumble years back to my early twenties. I was already feeling a little raw because of the new moon but I was surprised by how intensely I reacted to hearing a song I haven’t heard in so many years.

Music has always evoked strong emotions in me. I’ve been brought to tears on more than one occasion by the feelings I feel when I hear certain songs, a specific lyric, or a particularly emotive voice. It’s no surprise I ended up marrying a musician is what I’m saying.

I used to feel silly about being brought to tears over music but lately I’m refusing to see it as weakness or frivolity. Maybe it’s just me getting older and having fewer fucks left to give, or maybe it’s witnessing the beauty of my kids experiencing their own feelings so deeply, but whatever it is, I’m glad for it. I don’t think that feeling my feelings is a bad thing and I won’t feel ashamed, and I hope that my kids grow up knowing they have the freedom to feel their feelings in whatever capacity suits them best. If that means weeping over a pop song, so be it.

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Feeler

Last night was a challenging night to put it mildly. Big feelings and not enough sleep combined to make the atmosphere electric. So today when someone made small talk with me by asking how my kids are doing, I barely mustered a deflated “well, Poppy is three years old and she’s very very three right now.”  

I don’t do small talk well. I know the appropriate response is “they’re doing great, thanks for asking!” but I as it turns out, I am not appropriate. If you ask me how I am, I’m not going to say, “I’m fine, how are you?” I’m going to say, “I’m super jazzed because I saw a beautiful heron on my drive in this morning,” or “I’m feeling kind of down because I’ve lost touch with friends I thought would be my forever people,” or “I’m pissed because my favourite radio station fired my favourite hosts and now I have to boycott the station that plays the best music,” or “I’m scared that I’m not doing enough. Every day. Am I wasting my time?” I am a feeler - and sharer - of the feelings. (I literally felt all those things this morning in the span of about 30 minutes. Feeling feelings is my super power but damn, it is exhausting.)

Yesterday I was driving Poppy to daycare when I heard her start to sob. I asked her what was wrong (we’d just been saying good morning to the buses and everything was fine) and she told me she was sad because of something that had happened a week ago. In the moment it wasn’t significant, her little buddy had accidentally bonked her with his toy and it startled her. But a week later, she needed to talk about it and have a little cry to process her feelings. I have never felt closer or more similar to my daughter (or more sympathetic to my husband for that matter) than in that moment. 

National Cancer Survivors Day

Today is National Cancer Survivors Day and you will be shocked to hear that I have some feelings about this day.

On one hand, I see the value in celebrating survivorship. I have benefited from the visibility of other survivors, and I’ve been told by others that being transparent with my story has helped them. Hope, when paired with a healthy dose of pragmatism, is a valuable tool when facing a diagnosis. I think talking about cancer openly removes some of the fear and misinformation. Cancer doesn’t always mean a death sentence.

But sometimes cancer is a death sentence and celebrating National Cancer Survivors Day feels a bit itchy and uncomfortable when I start to think about all the people who aren’t here today, who don’t get to call themselves a survivor, who receive the unfortunate label of “lost their battle with *insert type of cancer here*.”

This post by Lisa Bonchek Adams is forever etched on my heart, especially this line:

When I die don’t say I “fought a battle.” Or “lost a battle.” Or “succumbed.”

Don’t make it sound like I didn’t try hard enough, or have the right attitude, or that I simply gave up.

Today I’m thinking about my fellow members in this crappy club no one wants to be a part of, and remembering those who would give anything to be part of this club if it meant one more day with their loved ones.

Bloom

I find out I’m pregnant the first week of January. Grady is three years old and we’ve just celebrated the first Christmas where he seemed to understand the festivities. It has been fun and joyful and exhausting and now I’m holding a positive pregnancy test and daydreaming about next year’s Christmas as a family of four. 

For three weeks we fluctuate between “what have we done?” and “look what we’ve done!” until I have my dating scan. I pick the private clinic over the hospital lab because calm music plays, the lights are dimmed, and soothing artwork hangs on the walls. I don’t realize until I’m walking down the hallway that the last time I had an ultrasound there was during the process of being diagnosed with cancer. Those walls with the soothing artwork in muted tones hold ghosts, for me and for others I’m sure of it, and another is added when the technician squints at the screen and says, “I don’t know what I’m looking at.”

January is the cruelest month in which to receive bad news. The sky is grey and suffocating, the rain cold and relentless. I stumble through each day in a fog, barely functioning beyond what’s necessary. Being told the pregnancy isn’t viable is heartbreaking. Carrying something that isn’t an embryo but is still a growing mass of cells, less than two years after cancer, is excruciating. 

I cry a lot. I think dark thoughts. I quickly descend down the doom spiral at the slightest provocation. It is January, and then it is February, and a month after being told something-but-not-a-baby is growing inside me, a month of blood tests every two days and internal ultrasounds every week, I have surgery to scrape out any evidence that my mass of not-a-baby ever existed. And then a week later I have another surgery to fix the results of the first surgery. 

It is another month before my blood tests are clear of any trace of pregnancy hormones. March is as terrible as February, but in a different way. In March, I am in pain - both physically and mentally - but I am also empty.  

I spend the first three months of 2015 convinced that I will not survive. The pain, the mental anguish, the uncertainty, is all too much. I am surrounded by love and support, people show up for me in a hundred different ways, I have accessible, high-quality medical care, and mental health support, all the things anyone who is going through a tough time could possibly ask for, and still I struggle. 

I spend a lot of time looking out the window at the bleak landscape in front of me - dirty puddles of freezing rainwater, piles of mud where the garden once was, and not a single green thing in sight. I start to meditate, sort of, in my own way. I stare at the garden and try to clear my mind of the hurricane of anxiety and sadness, and whisper the word “bloom.” Some days it is a plea, some days it’s more like a command. Most of the time it is just my own version of “om.”

My therapist suggests I do something to honour my not-a-baby, like buy a piece of jewellery or plant a tree, to bring closure and peace. I decide to plant a cherry blossom tree. One of the first signs of spring in BC is the arrival of the pale pink blossoms; when winter feels interminable and the grey feels like it is here to stay, the cherry blossom tree in my garden will be a reminder that there is renewal and there is light and hope blooms.

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