Today is my cancerversary. I was diagnosed with incurable stage iv colon cancer and given a hideous prognosis exactly one year ago today. I began writing this post by listing all of the trials I have endured over this past year, but I quickly realized that all of that is not the point. Yes, this year has been the hardest of my life. It has been full of pain and fear, grief and anger and sadness. But more importantly, it has been full of love and laughter, friendship and family and joy.
Passover begins this week. The holiday celebrates the Israelites’ liberation from slavery, their escape from Egypt. A wise rabbi reminded me recently that Mitzrayim, the Hebrew word for Egypt, is derived from the word meaning “a narrow place.” The Israelites were trapped in this narrow place for generations before being delivered into freedom. Passover can serve to remind us that each of our lives contains our own personal Mitzrayim, our own narrow places where we feel constricted, limited, trapped. This year, the cancer was my Mitzrayim: I was a slave to doctors, appointments, treatment protocols, and diets; I was limited by fatigue, nausea, weakness, and pain; I was trapped by perilous surgeries and grueling recoveries.
Within these narrow places, however, I experienced a profound liberation by recognizing a few simple, even cliched, ideas.
Life is fucking hard.
Life is fucking short.
Life is fucking beautiful. And precious. And a gift.
Facing one’s own mortality in very real and tangible ways is as freeing as it is terrifying. Learning to live each day to its fullest potential, to, as my favorite pair of socks says, carpe the fuck out of this diem, is an ongoing process. I have not perfected it yet and doubt I ever will. But over this past year, I have tried my damnedest. I have loved with abandon. I have revisited some of my most favorite places and reconnected with some of my most favorite people. I have been to more theatre, read more books, and listened to more music. I talk to strangers and practice yoga and eat dessert. I teach my favorite books and insist that my students embrace the Oxford comma. I have tried to cherish every moment I have with my kids, even the sucky ones, and I am determined to nurture their empathy, kindness, humor, and passion for musical theatre. I have escaped my narrow places by laughing more freely and loving more deeply. My liberation comes in the form of my friends and my family and my community.
There is no doubt that this cancer will continue to be my own personal Mitzrayim. But I will continue to wriggle my way out of the dark, narrow places and into the light. I will be grateful for the time I have, and I will try to live the hell out of every single day. I will be free; I am no slave–not to pain, not to illness, not to any fucking cancer.