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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

My own exodus

The similarities are interesting; the Jews of ancient Egypt and me. We both got knocked down by a primary evil, we both endured illness, fatigue, torture, faith testing, plagues (with boils making a cameo in both stories) but in the end, we stood up to the evil and we walked out. Moses took 40 years to get it together, I took 40 treatments but both of us crossed over beaten down, a bit more wounded, slightly less idealistic but triumphant and victorious...and after the exodus across the sea and mine, across the hospital, neither of us could eat bread. :)

It was a 19 month war. I don't have the prolific words that so many of my surviving sisters have. I am not grateful. I don't pray and I don't give thanks to Gd for recovery because then I would have to blame him for cancer...and I don't. I got cancer because I got cancer. To over think it means to give it more energy than it deserves. I remember the day I learned I had it. Susan came over with a pad while I sat stunned over a laptop trying to figure out the best way to get my husband, then fighting his own war in Afghanistan home safely. She and I tried our best to map out a solution but we had none. She sat with me and I sat in a numbed state. Lynn came over that night...I can still see her sweeping my living room in her business suit at 9pm while I remained on the couch rehearsing my speech to the kids. She could only clean, it's how she coped. I could only see their eyes. I knew she was suffering. I wasn't there yet. I was uncomfortably numb. I went to bed alone. Faked a flu to the kids until I had the right words...the ones that said "Mommy has cancer" and prepared answers for when they ask if I am going to die. For Maddie, she suffers quietly, I had to make sure I could reach her even in her silence. Ava deflects. I had to give her just enough information but not a drop more than she can take. Olivia will want to hug me. She won't know. Jack will just want his dad home. I can do this.

I get the call into Afghanistan - to the colonel who is getting Joseph. I have the Red Cross on the other line. I am planning. It's what I do best. Joseph knows it's bad but he also knows I rely heavily on his tone. We are going to do this, he says. We. He's never said anything but since. It's always been We. I head to preschool to pick up Jack and Olivia. I see Robyn and Susanne in the parking lot. I tell them stoically. I don't want questions, I don't want anything...they just know. Robyn hugs me. Susanne tells me she's sorry. So am I. I start to cry. It's as though I give them permission to feel something or maybe I just felt safe...they begin to cry too and the three of us, knowing what I am facing realize, maybe for the first time, I may actually die. As my knees buckle out from under me, I pick up my children and head to the car. I arrive home as Maddie is sitting with Patrick, her best friend. I pull them all outside...good news/bad news. Ava wants the good news first. Daddy is coming home. Joy, hugs...oh my gd why did I do good news first. With a hint of knowing Maddie wants to know why. I take a deep breath, pluck some grass, bite down on my lip and I tell them, in small, edible portions...I have cancer. But we have a plan, I am going to cut it out and the doctor believes I will be fine. It will be a long, tough road but we will win. Maddie folds in Patrick's arms as he holds her, Ava cries into my lap. They all sleep with me that night. I don't sleep at all. I text Ronni all evening...she knows. She's been there. She relives her own battle through me. Cancer has its way with her and shes now back in the trenches with me.

Red Cross calls - Joseph is airborne...five flights, 47 hours...he will be in my arms in less than two days.

And it begins...Susanne, Robyn, Anna and Amy coordinate meals, child care plan, Gail and Beth offer extra days at the preschool so I can rest, doctors visits, phone calls, surgery scheduled, getting Joseph home...the floodgates opened and there we were, on the edge, overlooking a canyon with only a broken down mule. When my chemo began I told Joseph I wanted us to decide when I would lose my hair. Cancer has done enough controlling. My turn. Joseph shaves his head and my son wants in - matching buzz cuts. Then me. He lovingly cuts my hair and then begins the razor as I cry and catch my fallen locks. Collateral damage I suppose. As my scalp is exposed I can't look in the mirror just yet. Joseph's tears are evident...he says I'm beautiful...that I look like a warrior. As Olivia enters the room she sees me and then sees all our hair piled up on the floor together. Look Mommy, she said, it's in the shape of a heart. I look down and there it was...a perfect heart of brown, blonde and red hair. Crestfallen but empowered I begin...

And here I am, victory is mine. But I was never alone...not once except in my mind, when I struggled the deepest with cancer. My worst battles are at night when I am tormented about my children losing a mother. My hideous showdowns are waged in my weakest state...sick, tired, strapped to a radiation table, handing over my hair and my breast. I read the Vikings used to cut off their breast to align themselves with the bow and arrow they used in protection...maybe that was my sacrifice as well.

I am tired, aged, burned, battle fatigued and perhaps a lot more cynical but my children saw the warrior - my gift to them. That deep within me, in the darkest of winter, they saw and experienced and invincible summer.

That will be my legacy...well that an my penchant for the f-bomb.

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