“Can I be real a second, for just a millisecond, let down my guard and tell the people how I feel a second?” — Hamilton, Lin Manuel Miranda aka my way of warning you that I had a rare moment of feeling all the feels when writing this. Proceed with caution.
Mother’s Day is emotionally fraught, no matter who you are. Even for people like me, who are lucky enough to have our mothers in our lives, who live close enough to our mothers to share the day with them, and who actually really enjoy spending time with our mothers, Mother’s Day can be emotional and exhausting. Then there are those who have lost their mothers, who have lost their children, who have strained relationships with their mothers, who long to be mothers, who have chosen not to be mothers–I can only imagine how painful this Hallmark holiday that means nothing and everything can be.
Since my diagnosis, I have had to face my own mortality in ways I had not considered before. Mike and I have hurriedly created a will and a trust and filled out advanced directives. We make inappropriate jokes about how much ass he’s gonna get as a young widower. I’ve had to think about quality of life versus longevity and if I’d ever choose to stop treatment. I now have a better idea than most of how I’m going to go, if not when. But the hardest thing to think about, the thing that keeps me up at night, is my kids. I have always taken for granted that I would see my kids transition from preschool to elementary school, celebrate their bar and bat mitzvahs, go off to college, likely move home again, then move out and make lives of their own. Now that this is no longer a given, now that my own future is uncertain, I worry more about my children’s future. Who are they going to become? What changes are they going to make to this world? Are they going to make good, healthy choices? Are they going to be happy? I have no doubt that if the unspeakable happens, my children will be loved and cared for and supported by our family and community. But will they remember me? Will they only remember me sick? How do I impart a lifetime of wisdom and motherly advice, not knowing how long I have, not knowing what milestones I’ll get to see and which I’ll miss?
This Mother’s Day, I did not feel well. I was having some terrible abdominal pain that was never really explained but has since faded. I had had to postpone chemo that week due to dangerously low platelets and white blood cells and was feeling really fatigued and ill. My grandmother arranged a brunch and my mom had everyone over after for snacks and gifts. I desperately wanted to enjoy myself, to be in the moment, to bask in the glow of my children and my family.
But this fucking cancer, man. It is stealing these moments from me. I continually resolve to live in the moment, to overcome my fatigue and nausea by sheer force of will, to get my ass up and help put the kids down, jump with them on the trampoline, or play games with them. But I can’t always do that, and this is the real tragedy. I often lie in my bed, listening to sounds of the household, trying not to but unable to stop imagining what it will be like when I am gone.
But I am not gone. I am here, and I am surviving, and some days I am even thriving. My children, like all children, are resilient and flexible and have adapted to our new normal. And if I have to explain pads and tampons to Ramona a little early or talk to Solly about how treat his future partners a tad before he’s ready, we’ll roll with that, too.
Silver lining roll call:
- Old friends keep visiting!!
- Pickles taste even more amazing than normal.
- Ramona and Solly are developing their empathy for people with medical needs.
- People keep buying me tshirts.
- I’m learning to advocate for myself as a patient.
- I’m raising awareness, especially among my students, about what a cancer patient looks like and how to be comfortable around people with medical needs.
- TEAM JENESSA WRISTBANDS!!