Andrew’s Birthday…

Thursday was Andrew’s 48th birthday. Never in a million years would I have imagined that we would have spent this particular birthday feeling what we were feeling, nor having the experiences we have been having in the past 4 weeks. In fact, my mind has been so distracted that I forgot to buy balloons, a tradition, if not an unspoken rule in our family.

We had planned on spending the day together while the kids were at school. And yet, it had been a funky week (to say the least). Andrew hadn’t felt well and had skipped a 14’er hike he was hoping to do and I had been completely out of sorts, and thus we rolled into Wednesday night quite rudderless. Time was growing closer to departure, closer to surgery, and “time was running out”. Thus, Andrew decided to head down to the Collegiates and hike Mount Princeton, a 14’er he had never been up. We talked at great length about the plan, the potential outcome, how to be smart and listen to his body, etc. Of course, I encouraged him to go, despite feeling nervous about his health/never-ending cold, and the potential to set himself back even further….and thus risking his surgical date of 9/4. You see, I had become quite attached to Wednesday, September 4th. I have had my heart and mind set on September 4th for weeks now. In fact, I have been basing my days around how many days left until September 4th. And, I also could think of no better celebration for my sweet man on his birthday than to stand on top of a Colorado 14’er, in the wilderness, at altitude, appreciating the beauty of the state we have chosen to live in, as well as being able to feel his body function at its best, with full lung capacity.

When I look back at early last week and reflect on how deeply I was struggling, I am humbled. I am also embarrassed. I pride myself on being strong. I pride myself on being able to rise above and take anything that comes my way. And I pride myself on being able to override pain, and override fatigue, and override stress. Yet, it was just not that simple for me. Apparently, I am merely human. I wish I were more. I wish I were stronger and more in control. Yet I am not. For that, I guess I am grateful. And yet, I was so challenged by my own self in the early part of this past week. I would look at Andrew, and he was fighting a cold, struggling with a lung cancer diagnosis, writing blogs, reading and studying, checking in with me, fathering our children and more. And seemingly all ok. No fear, no anxiety, functioning. I, on the other hand, couldn’t get out of my own way, despite how hard I tried. I struggled. I struggled to sleep. I struggled to smile. I struggled to feel the gratitude and appreciation for Andrew’s incredibly positive prognosis and our collective great fortune. I was consumed by my own discomfort, and my fears and my anxiety. I tried to talk about it. Yet truth be told, I isolated. I put my head down, took care of Andrew and the children and trusted that this very uncomfortable time would pass. And it did.

And then it was Wednesday, the day before Andrew’s birthday. And then it was Thursday, Andrew’s birthday — over the hump, and into the final week before surgery and the veil lifted. I began to feel lighter. I began to feel brighter. And I slept. And I celebrated the fact that I chose to marry a man who is already a survivor, and will continue to be a survivor….and very soon will have the great honor of joining an incredible group of people who are Cancer Survivors. And I couldn’t feel more grateful. And I couldn’t feel brighter or more optimistic.  And I truly couldn’t be happier to be able to celebrate Andrew’s 48th birthday together with him, beside him, and in complete love with him.

Yet, I still carry some fear. I still carry some anxiety. Yet I do so, while also having a cup runneth over with positivity and love that I can feel down to my cells.

We leave tomorrow for Houston. Lang can’t wait to take a plane ride, Chase is dreading the heat of Houston, and Miller is standing tall and perhaps just a bit too strong and stoic. Andrew just sent me all of his respective usernames and passwords, “just in case”. This is all so strange and surreal. And, I am about to head to bed. I know I will sleep tonight.

Three more sleeps.

Next year, I am sure I will remember balloons for Andrew’s 49th…

Love,

Brooke

A Simple Cold…

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” ― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Limbo – an intermediate or transitional state of uncertainty

The last few days have been a bit more challenging. Out of nowhere on Tuesday I developed a summer cold. Nothing serious, sore throat, a little sinus, and that heavy feeling in my legs and mild headache. Pretty common, end of summer, small kids back to school, etc. No big deal. Yet this time around it has felt like a very big deal indeed.

I have never been a very good patient. I don’t like being sick, restricted, or otherwise encumbered. And I especially don’t like it if it is not of my choosing. I have a hard time sitting still. I want to move. I want to engage, I have a bias towards action. And this little cold was the proverbial straw that broke the camels back.  I couldn’t ride or hike, I didn’t feel like meditating. I felt like do nothing. And that bummed me out much more than I was expecting. I feel like I need to make the most of this time. In two weeks I enter a new phase of life. And although I am confident I will make a relatively quick and strong recovery, I am also certain that I am losing a part of my lung, lymph, and my innocence. A transition, a new phase, and a new beginning lie ahead.

It was a poignant reminder to me that I have cancer. A reminder I clearly needed to help cut through the lingering fog of denial. That I have a disease growing in my chest unfettered, a silent killer. That no matter how strong I feel, how much I ride, hike, meditate and stay positive I am not in complete control. Of course I think we all know that at some level. Control is an illusion, our health especially is not a given, and that every present moment is truly a gift. But in our whirlwind and busy lives, I like most of us I beleive, manage the illusion of control so well.

This is not the first time I have had to confront the illusion of control. I have survived many trials in my life from childhood on. I am a survivor and I know that I will always fight to the end, and that many times “success” only emerges through “failure”. I have had friends fight and some succumb to cancer. I helped my family nurture my dad through the dying process 13 years ago (lung cancer) and my mother just 3 years ago. I know the statistics, 1 in 3 will get cancer, but that was always something that happened to someone else. That was not going to be my story. I am active, fit, focused, young…and I have lives ahead of me.

So I have focused on my diagnosis in the last three weeks much the same way I have confronted many challenges in my life, head on. I have focused my energies into activity and a positive attitude. Doing my best to engage in “everyday normal”, to support my children and Brooke, and to enjoy this gift of open time.  I have written about attitude and effort, about being a warrior and preparing for the battle ahead, and have received a lot of loving support  for taking this approach.

Like every dynamic there are many facets to any situation.  A light and a dark, a positive and a negative. No judgement on either, one does not exist without the other. And over the last few days God, the universe, Buddha, etc. have provided me this gift of a cold to remind me that I cannot just push through this challenge on will power and strength alone. That I need to open to my vulnerability, to my fragility, and to the uncertainty that exists in all dynamics. My only control is to surrender my desire for control. To accept the full picture, to focus on being strong even when I feel weak. To draw my strength from my spirit and essence, my core as a spiritual being. Knowing that all else will fade away, not anytime soon, but with an eventuality that is certain and guaranteed.

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, rather we are spiritual beings having a human experience.

So with two weeks left before surgery I will continue to focus on staying fit, especially my cycling, and the freedom of flowing over the land in the open air. And I am reminded that I also need to open to my vulnerability. Accept that I have cancer. Accept that I am going to be vulnerable, hurting, and incapacitated. That I need to be open to being still and vulnerable. That my body will be less than the pillar of strength that I want. To accept a “weakness”, fortunately temporary, and in it find the courage and openness to engage in the infinite strength of my spirit.  For the real gift of this cancer is to accept this vulnerability, a path we will all travel, if we are so fortunate. And in this journey to continue to cultivate empathy and compassion for the all of those who struggle everyday to have the strength to get through life with grace while dealing and accepting physical limitations and challenges that make my situation pale in comparison.

I have had more than a few colds in my life. And until yesterday I had never stopped to reflect on the gift offered and the lessons to be learned from a simple sore throat.

A man’s spirit sustains him in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?

 – Proverbs 18:14