Hey, you guys. I’ve missed you. I’ve been quiet this month, I know that, and am so thankful for the messages asking me where I’ve been. I’m here, I’m here. I haven’t written lately partly (okay, largely) because I am straight-up tired. This pregnancy thing has been exhausting the third time around. I mean, it’s going well, and the baby’s healthy, even if s/he is growing at a frightening speed thanks to genetics and my alarming desire for Utz crab chips and vanilla fudge. But as I’ve mentioned before, I’m still having a bit of an issue staying on top of my world. It’s harder to keep up with two young kiddos and all the mundane responsibilities of full-time parenthood when there’s a human parasite (sorry, baby, but yes) feeding off of me and making me have to pee every twenty minutes. Writing and blogging and taking photos of the backs of my kids’ heads have taken to the metaphorical back burner of my now infrequently used stove.
But there’s something else, too, something outside of me that has influenced every day of mine for the last month. It’s bigger than I am, yet not of me, but has rattled us to the core. David’s cousin Christina died Sunday morning, about a year after being diagnosed with cervical cancer. She’s like many of us–married, a young mom. She was 34. Her son is two. She was perfectly healthy, and then boom. She got sick, and she did her best to beat it, and she died.
Can you wrap your head around that? Because I haven’t been able to.
This is the first message I received from Tina after her diagnosis, in October of 2011:
Thank you!!! I think I’m still in shock! This all started a few months ago when my pap smear came back abnormal. June 1st- severe dyplasia. So one week later I went for the next test and the biopsy confirmed the pap results. Was supposed to have surgery in July-a cold knife cone procedure but due to having bronchitis it got rescheduled twice. So on Sept 22nd finally had the surgery only they couldn’t do it due to the large mass covering my cervix. Turned out to be cancer and this past Thursday found out it had spread to various lymph nodes. I have been bleeding a lot. The doctors are stunned at how fast this is all happening. I have always gotten yearly paps and all through being preggo everything was normal. Right around my baby boy’s first birthday I started bleeding but just thought it was my period. It was on and off but due to nursing thought it was hormone related. Well when it got worse and never ended that’s when I started to get worried and it was time for my one year check up. The plan right now is 8 radiation treatments and then chemo. They are offering me a clinical trial with the chemo. I had a bad reaction from radiation. After today though with the IV and blood transfusion I’m feeling much better. And I’m home! So much to be thankful for! I’m praying for a miracle and have a precious baby boy and loving husband who I have to fight this cancer thing for. Thank you again for your message!!! Lots of love and hugs!!!
I haven’t been able to write since Christina went into hospice care about a month ago. Any of us who’ve had a close friend or family member pass away from cancer knows what that word “hospice” means. We wait. We just have to wait. And with waiting is a lot of reflecting and worrying and thinking and, yes, praying. My dad’s death unlocked my pen, for some reason–I wrote his eulogy, and couldn’t seem to stop after that–but the end of Christina’s illness shut it back down again. I am humbled by T
ina–I cannot fathom the strength she mustered while she fought this thing, while she dealt with the pain and the nausea and the disappointment she felt at not being able to be as present a mom and wife as she’d been before. I keep thinking about her respect for her husband and her absolute love for her son and her faith that maybe, just maybe, a miracle could happen, even as the cancer spread throughout her body.
Cancer is a horror you can’t quite comprehend until you’ve witnessed someone suffer through it to the very end. We watched my dad from beginning to end, always hoping, always praying, not wanting to acknowledge when it was time that this was really, truly happening. Tina’s grace–her absolutely, unwavering grace while she dealt with her cancer, handled it, fought it off with everything she had, is astounding, and the simple fact that we’re close to the same age, that she, too, was just beginning the journey of motherhood, that she was so kind and interesting and interested is more than I’ve been able to grapple. I’ll be totally honest with you: I feel like nothing I will do in my life, other than loving my family and raising my children well, will match the way she lived as she was dying. All the extras–the hobbies and the complaints about traffic and the frustrations about laundry are so, so very real, but so, so petty. Do you think I wanted to write another blog post about the annoyances of unloading the dishwasher? Of course not. I couldn’t bring myself to update Facebook like I normally do because every sarcastic, silly comment seemed so stupid. Christina faced this storm head-on, walking straight into the wind, and kept moving until she knew she had to make her peace and welcome the end to her pain. I am not worthy of that. I live, and hug my children, and argue with my husband about politics and who last changed the poopy diaper. What does creativity matter? How is me fretting about finding time to write and clean the bathroom and getting enough sleep useful at all? Why do I care about finishing a book and keeping a blog and posting Facebook updates? They don’t matter. Look at how she did this, I think. THAT mattered. And I sit here, stalled.
Christina is gone. I will not say she lost the fight. I can’t, because I don’t know what else she could have done. The faith in me is convinced that there is a reason she was “called home,” as they say. Maybe somehow she can do more work by God’s side now, influence and help more people. But this is not church, or heaven. This is our world, our tangible world, and I look at Quinn and can’t correspond my faith with what I see in front of me. Quinn is just a few weeks younger than Christina’s son. She has no concept that there’s a baby coming in a few months, even as my body changes and shifts. So how do you explain to a 2-year-old that his mother isn’t going to be there when he wakes up tomorrow? Or the next day? How do you explain to and comfort someone who is used to having his mom beside him, napping with her arms around him, every day? And how does a young man–Tina’s husband–face the fact that he’s a single father against his will, that he lost his wife before they’d really had time together on their journey?
I keep envisioning cancer as this horrible, horrible evil, scrambling around, snatching at everything that passes by, greedily and haphazardly trying to clamp more prey in its grip–God forbid you’re the one who falls victim to its claws. Cancer is not godly. Cancer is a curse. I just don’t understand.
Tina sent me this about a week after that last message:
Thank you! I’m praying for a miracle. I’m feeling better today. The radiation treatments have been very rough. Today was my last treatment though. They just did 8 treatments to try and stop the bleeding. I’m still bleeding but not as bad. Today as I was getting my blood tested and a dose of iron I watched the nurses. Well they put on this white coat before they give the patients their chemo. It totally freaked me out. Whole mind body connection thing. Do you know anything about clinical trials? I know your dad had cancer and I’m so sorry for your loss. This cancer thing is really crazy. Do you mind if I ask a couple questions? Like how was he diagnosed? Where did he get his treatment? How long did he do chemo? What stage? I know every story is different. I was a vegetarian who ate organic, exercised, you name it. Just crazy. Last Monday I was getting blood/ fluids through an IV and had a turkey sandwich. I was so sick though that I just needed to eat. The radiation made me very sick. Thank you so much for your support and most of all your prayers! Love you all bunches! Oh by the way… I LOVE your blog!!!! I read every post!
Faith does not come easily to me. I mean, I have it, and parts of it are very strong, but I don’t often vocalize what I really think. It’s such a shifting thing. I’ve spent most of my life questioning–just ask my poor mom about that–but I do have to say I always circle around to the belief that this is not all we know. This isn’t a desperate latching on to a “this can’t be it” idea, it’s just that, religion even aside, the idea of progression makes sense. I think about the last hours we had with my dad. He wasn’t able to move to a hospice facility, so he was transitioned into hospice (“palliative care” was the new phrase we learned that week) while still in the ICU. We had a couple of instances where we thought it was the end, but he ended up rebounding, if you will, for another few hours. And the nurses that came in and out kept saying the same thing, with a smile: they said that he “was working something out with God.” It was just understood that he had some business to finish before he left. I keep thinking about it. Death to these medical professionals was movement, from one world into the next. It wasn’t religious, or evangelistic. It was just natural, assumed. Which doesn’t make it any better for those of us left behind, but still. It’s something to go back to.
Christina, as I said, is David’s cousin, and I didn’t know her very well for a very long time. She and I got closer after she was diagnosed, mainly through email messages back and forth. It was a strange place for me–I was physically too far removed to be much help, but close enough to watch, listen, to learn. We thought we had a lot in common–a lot of the same principles, many shared ideas. I told her I admired her as a role model. She was the one of the biggest champions I had of this blog. The last messages we shared involved a plan to get the cousins together for a cookout once she was strong enough to make the trip.
Tina can’t hear me anymore, but her family can. The way they rallied around her as she grew sicker, and fought, and neared the end, was unwavering. The amount of love that surrounded Christina this last year has been absolutely amazing to watch. They were with her. They tried to take care of her as best they could. They were there to hold her hand and offer support and say goodbye. Christina left this world knowing she was wholly, passionately, truly loved. Lindsay and Jerry, I’m thinking about you, especially.
I can’t live my life as a perfect person. I can’t even come close. I can be petty, and wallow, and live in my head too much. I make mistakes and jump the gun and, like many people, often treat strangers better than I do the ones closest to me. I try to follow my heart but grumble about responsibilities. I handle the responsibilities I’ve taken on but wish I could be doing something else. I’m so happy to stay at home with my children–so grateful, every day–but admit to being unfulfilled by the way my world has shrunk around me. There’s only so much time in the day. Only so much energy. Only so much patience. It’s all petty. But it’s all real.
Tina’s journey has ended–or gone onto the next phase, if you will. We are still here. Her husband. Her son. Her family and friends and strangers who are reading this right now and either wishing I’d just go back to writing about the housework or are thinking about their own families, their own fears. We are here, and still walking, and still struggling to balance and love and learn and live, sometimes, but not always, remembering that what seems so large isn’t, really, and what is disappearing can be brought to the forefront again, if we work really hard, and just have some of that faith that Christina consistently showed. Many of us can identify with that strange place you enter after a loved one dies. That sense of numbness, of wondering what, exactly, you’re supposed to do next. It’s a horrible feeling, when the rest of the world is moving around you, but you’re still in place, wondering how the world can dare to go on. I really don’t know what else to say, so I’ll leave you with this. Tina shared this with her friends and family after her doctors told her it was time to stop treatment.
My father…my heavenly father how I praise you and thank you for all you have done and provided. I have faith you will take care of my baby boy and hubby. I’m waiting for your arms to come sweep me up take away the pain, the sickness this awful disease. When I’m in your arms I will feel peace. All the suffering will be gone…
Though I’m still here when my time shall come… remember me with the good times. The smiles. The laughter. Remember and praise the Lord for the time I did have on this earth. The gift of being a mother to the most amazing baby boy ever. The wife to the most amazing man ever. A sister to the most amazing brother, a daughter, a friend. Remember to just LOVE because you can never go wrong if you just LOVE.
Like I said, we all need something to go back to. I think I’m going to hold on to this for a while.
Note: I wrote this last Monday. Life since then has been…sad. Quiet. Very…