It’s a very good day. An important day. An anniversary.
No, not a wedding anniversary, or a dating anniversary, or a birthday.
Today marks one year since my husband had a drain tube pulled after six months of complications from surgery to remove a cancerous tumor that invaded his pancreas.
The difference between this year and last is almost beyond comprehension. Last year at this time, it was a struggle to try to feel merry. We had Christmas lights on the house only because our neighbor was quick to climb on the roof to help. Our tree? That was because my parents were sweet enough to drive an hour to haul it in and put it up so we could decorate it. And the general atmosphere around here? While we were so very thankful for husband’s treatment and his doctors, we were still uncertain of the immediate future. Not that anyone can ever be certain of the future, but you don’t realize how much you take for granted until you’re steeped in worry every second of every day.
This year? This year he’s been caught whistling Christmas carols behind the bathroom door as he gets ready in the morning. The lights on the house were up a day after Thanksgiving. He’s giddy at the prospect of presents on Christmas morning. I’ve come home to find Christmas music playing in his home office as he works. He couldn’t wait to help me address the Christmas cards. He was excited to get the tree, put it up, and wrap the presents that went beneath it. In fact, this might be the first year that he wanted to be involved in seeing all the gifts before they were wrapped instead of settling just for knowing what was bought.
This is a man who has fully embraced the holiday and the feeling of family. So happy Winter Solstice! I’ll take 12/21/18 over 12/21/17 any day, for as grateful as I am for this day last year, I’m a million times more grateful for every moment we’ve had since.
If you want to know the value of a year, ask anyone who has faced this kind of diagnosis or worse. We were lucky. His was only a stage 1B. Prognosis is good. Our future is optimistic.
But that doesn’t stop me from asking ‘What if?’ a hundred-thousand times a day. What if things had been different?
So if you want to know what a year is truly worth, spend an afternoon with a cancer survivor and ask them to share their experience. And never take for granted another year, another day, another minute, again.
June 5, 2017 changed our lives forever. I have felt a level of gratitude every day of this past year greater than I could ever have imagined. If you want to know the value of one year, simply ask yourself, “What if?”
I watched the sunrise with my best friend yesterday. From the thirteenth floor, caged balcony of a Philadelphia hospital, we braved the early morning chill and watched the sun slowly bathe the buildings around us in a golden glow that made even Philadelphia look almost serene. (Almost.)
A Bryce Canyon sunrise, it was not, but it was still one of the most beautiful and one of the most stirring sights I’ve seen to date. I stood on that concrete precipice with the man who not 48 hours before was in excruciating pain and couldn’t have even thought about leaving a bed. And yet, yesterday morning he was up and walking the hallway at 4 a.m. and sparring good-naturedly with the nurses.
He’s back. My best friend is back.
We’re looking forward to his being discharged (probably tomorrow) and I couldn’t be happier that this entire experience will soon be nothing more than the faint echo of a memory. I wish I could say this memory will be as cherished as those from our cross-country trip two years ago (it won’t be), or that this endeavor was as enjoyable (it wasn’t). When we traveled the country together for three weeks, I learned a lot about us and about our relationship. It was as strong as I’d always thought and we’re better than just a husband and a wife. We’re best friends. This experience, though a polar opposite to our travels, served to reinforce that. My husband is, and always will be, my very best friend through thick and thin.
To those of you who have been following, and to the many people who reached out to me during this time, I can’t thank you enough. There are no adequate words to express how much your support means to us, how great your friendship is, and how much we love all of you in return. It is entirely true that you cannot ever realize the true extent of how much you are loved until you have to rely on the people around you. Our “people” truly shine. Thank you friends, family, and every kind stranger who has reached out. The world needs more of you.
That’s all I can think as I sit in this hospital room, watching my husband snore softly as he recovers from an invasive surgery that left him with no spleen, no gallbladder, lost lymph nodes, and half a pancreas.
Why would I think this?
Because I’m the one who always imagines every scenario. I’m the one who always thinks the worst, even when there’s no evidence that the worst is actually going to occur. I’m the one who has imagined every pain, every injury, and every possible way to die. One might say I just like to be prepared, but the truth is that I wasn’t prepared for it to happen to someone else, to someone I love.
That’s not to say that I think about this stuff often. I don’t. But I guess you could say I think about it more than most. I live in my head a million lives I’ve never lived out loud. I imagine that’s the case for most avid readers and writers.
My husband isn’t like that, though. He’s my superhero. He lives for the moment—each and every moment, and to see him reduced to lying in agony on a hospital bed, exhausted from the pain, the common complications, and lack of sleep is both heartbreaking and gut-wrenching. He’s always so sure of things. He’s always so positive.
I have faith that I’ll see the man I know again and probably soon, but at this particular moment, “soon” feels like forever.
But this, too, shall pass. I am a student and the lesson is patience.