As I was walking with him and his bursting joy away from school, someone asked me a question about it, and I said he just graduated from kindergarten! And they say, that is wonderful. "But bittersweet too, I know, right?"
I'm guilty, in the past. I watched the littles grow, and while I didn't want them to stay small forever -- I'm no masochist -- I loved my little babies. But I would definitely lament some of the rapid, unstoppable growth of my littles. Ahh the sweet tiny outfits! I love them as much as the next sentimental fool. [NB: Not enough to keep more than one outfit per kid as a memento, I am after all launching a new career as a professional organizer, we can't have that kind of precedent...] Oh those sweet milk-coma baby dead-asleeps. Oh that intoxicating new-baby smell [not that other smell tho]. And oh oxytocin infusions of happiness, I miss you.
Some of that growing up "loss" did feel bittersweet. Not anymore.
Just pure sweet. Amazing, riotously happy sweet. I am ALIVE and I got to watch my sweet little grow a little bit more big, and I am just purely and blissfully HAPPY to see it. I watched him, and more than that, it didn't completely waste me physically to be there and do it, unlike some of the soccer practices I went to during treatment. I didn't survive through it. I lived it. Thank you, universe, for giving me this. Because I don't take it for granted. I can't anymore, I can't take anything for granted (and yes, that is really exhausting, thanks for asking).
One of the things about having cancer young is that suddenly, you're the person, you know? That friend? "Oh my goodness, my friend has cancer." "Oh no, that's awful. Is it bad?" I'm that person. And a lot of people in my age group have those people, because although it's rare for someone as young as I am to have cancer, it's not like, THAT rare, that it NEVER happens. I mean, it happens to some people, and it happened to me. But like, it's still really unusual in our age group, right? You're talking to your friend, and you say, "My friend Natasha said..." "Wait, who's Natasha?" "You know, my friend with cancer I was telling you about last month?" "Oh yeah, right, go on..."
But the really really awful thing, people, is this: now I can't have that conversation. I know SO MANY people with cancer now. It's awful. I can't say "my friend with cancer" because there are too many. I met all these amazing, amazing women during treatment. It's so empowering to know such vibrant people who are coping with the shitstorm along with you. It's great to have a group of people who get it, without a lot of explanation. Because I do like to talk, but man, I don't like to (e.g.) explain why something you said hurt my feelings. People take that shit so personally, and like, I get it, It's hard to know. But sometimes I want to have some discussions with people who don't say stuff like that, because no matter what the "intent" behind it, how much "love" they have, it still hurts my feelings. I just want to talk with MY PEOPLE sometimes, and when I want to talk about cancer, especially when I want to talk about how weird life seems to be now, how it seems like time is moving differently for me than others, how none of the puzzle pieces that were my life seem to fit together any more -- most of my people, frankly, are people with cancer, or people close to those people, like spouses, or people who've had other horrible shit happen to them, and who just get it. You know? So yea, I love these women. I love them. I couldn't survive this experience without them.
But I hate having to know them. I hate that they have cancer, and that's why I know them and that I have cancer, and that's why they know me. I hate that cancer has turned me from someone who knows one or two people with cancer into someone who knows and now loves lots of amazing, talented, vibrant, smart, snarky, loving, passionate women (and a few men, but not many, because boobs have been my focus) who have cancer. Because now I care. Not theoretically, but personally. I wish I'd never met these women, because it would mean that they didn't have cancer. And now? Now my heart breaks, all the time. All the time. It breaks when I hear that another woman -- who I know or don't know, frankly, it doesn't matter because now they all look like my friends -- has died of metastatic breast cancer. It breaks. It breaks when I hear that another of these amazing women has found that her cancer has spread. And it breaks when I know that some of these women? Their days are very literally numbered. And it breaks because I know that 30% [ish] of these women who, like me, had their breast cancer "caught early" will still morph into metastatic [read: incurable and terminal] breast cancer and die too young.
People say shit like, "We're all going to die one day." That's one of those things that I hate to hear, because ... well, if you can't figure it out, google it, and if you can't google it, go away.
But yeah, back to the point -- I hate having to know them, because they constantly keep me in the moment.
I enjoyed every moment of graduation with Kid1, I didn't feel that bittersweet feeling that I'm familiar with from my pre-cancer days. I don't feel it. Because a dear friend of mine? Her goal is to live long enough to see her little girl go to kindergarten. Because today I saw Kid1 graduate, and as you all know -- that is not nearly enough time to have with your kid. I was looking at him, and I was thinking, man, if she gets to this moment, she'll have lived a year longer than her goal. And having one year less than that, as your goal? What right do I have to be BITTER? Even joined with sweet? What need do I have for such an emotion? Why would I want to lessen my sheer joy at both having been there for all my yesterdays, and still getting to be here today? No, thank you. I'll just take that sweet with a side of joy on a plate of happiness accompanied by a tall glass of contentment. For as long as I can watch those littles grow up. And as long as I can see that little crease near Craig's eyes when he's really happy. I'll take it.
I read somewhere of cancer diagnosis called a "dark gift" and I do agree. I like that phrasing, "dark gift." Like with all traumatic experiences, with cancer there is an opportunity for post-traumatic growth. You know, I'm no fool. I'll take these benefits from the diagnosis, because it's not like I had a choice. I mean, I'd return the gift if I could, since I know that there is a risk it will kill me sooner than I'd otherwise statistically die. But. I can't, I didn't get that gift receipt with the pathology report, so since I'm stuck with it, I'll take the growth and the freedom from a lot of the "life chaff" that was stuck to me before and that I was hauling around. It's like I've released all the spiritual clutter. I worry less. [Part of this, I ascribe to my newfound ADD. Like, I don't have as long of an attention span, so I actually can't worry as much. Bonus?]
But I have this more "in the moment" experience because my friends are going to die. And because I'm untimely acquainted with my own mortality. I know how very, very, very frail my connection to this world is. I also know, in a way that I don't think translates in a blog post, how ridiculously frail your connection is too. I feel like I know it in a way you can't, unless something ridiculous has happened to you. Not necessarily cancer. But I have a few friends in mind who have had some horrible shit happen to them in the past few years, and they get it.
So today I marked a milestone. And I am so happy. So, so happy, no bitter in this KoolAid. And I am meta-happy -- happy about the opportunity to be here at all, to enjoy this happiness. And I am melancholy, because I feel the connected pain of my friends, and their web of friends, and the whole network of young mothers like myself, ACHING to have the chance to just see their little ones grow up.
When you know, you can't unknow. It changes everything. I can't put it all behind me, because the "all" is reality, life, transience, truth, meaning, and existence itself.