There is so much I want to tell you. And really, I don’t know exactly where to begin. So, like I’ll encourage you from here on out, I am going to just take the next step.
Things are about to get hard. Real hard. Like can’t breath, might throw-up, haven’t eaten nor slept in a week, hard. It will be a hard that you are absolutely sure will tear your body physically in two, and yet every day you will wake up whole and wonder how it’s possible to do it all again. The kind of hard that makes you cry thinking about the only way out being through.
It will be the hard that you fleetingly imagine when you see other people suffer, but can’t actually picture for yourself. The hard that makes you ache for all the stupid shit you complained about last month. The hard that has everyone offering to help, and no amount of help feel like any help at all. You will be glad someone is picking up the sibling from school, and someone else watching the baby at home, but where you would hope to find gratitude you will just find mucky grief.
When you see a classmate, who comes over to your house with his mom to help out, casually throw on and tie his tennis shoes to leave, you will boil with rage, wondering, “WHY DID MY BABY GET CANCER, WHY NOT HIM!!!!” And while hugging his mom good-bye, you will think to yourself, “Where the heck did that come from… I don’t want him to have cancer…” But as they walk down the driveway you will feel an emptying in your heart space and as you close the front door and lean your back against it, slowly sliding down, crouched on the floor, you will think, “I want to put on my shoes and drive away too.” You will stare at the floor as your other kids carry-on around you and will wonder how things inside of you got so dark, so quickly.
It will be the kind of hard where anger keeps raging in the most unnerving, and equally comforting ways. You will rage at the night nurse who tells you the incessant beeping is fine, they just had the monitor on the wrong setting. And then you will rage at your friend who tells you that you need to eat something. “EAT SOMETHING!” You’ll think, “My kid is dying, and all you care about is me eating something!” And then you will take the smoothie from her hand and as you drink it, realize you haven’t eaten in two full days. You’ll cry, and wonder if this kind of hard will last forever.
This is the hard that makes you cry when a year later you read: “grief and gratitude are often clenched in the same fist.” The kind of hard that has you so mad at everyone that sometimes you wonder if their care for you will run out, before you are whole again.
It will be hard because there will be a crowd of supporters around you and you will feel more alone than you ever have. Because supportive or not, the island of a cancer mom is made for one. Even God will feel distant in this valley. Everyone is still there. It’s just that this is the kind of hard that you won’t be able to feel that. Or really, you will feel it, but you will also be feeling so much else, that you won’t know the difference. Everything will feel heavy. And it will be hard because there will be people everywhere asking how they can help, and even still, you will feel completely alone, sure that you are the only one who can carry the weight.
This is the hard that reveals many things in hindsight, but not very much in the moment. It will be hard in the way that you listen to worship songs and quietly sob, wishing that you didn’t have to be in a place of desperately needing what the lyrics promise. Not “desperately” like your youth group, high on Jesus, teen self used to think of worship, but desperately like the mom who doesn’t know if cancer means life or death. This will be the hard worship you read about in the epistles and admired, but deep down never yearned for. The desperate hard where “praying in groans” suddenly is the only thing in the bible that makes any sense at all.
You will feel like you are trying to stay afloat in the middle of a raging sea, and every moment you gasp a breath, is followed by a crushing wave that takes you under. You will come back up, but you will also swallow a lot of salty water.
So much salty water.
You will cough, choking, sure you are dying, and then you’ll get another breath. And be both thankful and just plain tired, all at once.
It’s going to feel impossible. Hard like you could never have imagined. And perhaps the hardest part will be believing that you will get through it. Or perhaps even harder, will be wanting to.
And really mama. It’s not going to get easier for a long while.
But there will be moments...
There will be sweet moments when you find yourself smiling at a little thing you used to take for granted, like the hug a classmate gives when they see your son for the first time post-diagnosis. Moments when you realize it could have been so much worse. And this hug was one bad scan away from never existing.
Little moments where you wonder if your life before cancer could ever have been as intentional as your life now. And you’ll find yourself sick to death over where you are, and yet, thankful for it and you’ll wonder if the reason you actually feel sick is for being even one, single drop of thankful for this cosmically crappy hand.
“How can I be thankful for this?” you’ll wonder to yourself. Always to yourself because no one around you would understand. Thankful in the way that is almost impossible to put words to. In the way that your heart feels swollen, like it hurts, but it hurts so good.
And you’ll spend a lot of time wondering if the heart swelling is good or bad. And likely you’ll land on: it’s both.
It’s always both. It always has been.
With or without cancer, your kid has always made time do that weird thing where you feel so proud and so sad all at once that you aren’t sure of the origin of your tears. Where you look at your kid and wonder, “Just yesterday you were little, how did we get here?” And that makes any mama’s heart ache.
It’s always been like that, I think cancer just makes you notice it more.