6 Months

Its absolutely amazing to me how fast time flies when you are having fun. Andrew is in Houston at MDAnderson again for his 6 month series of tests and scans, and I am at home holding down the fort and taking care of the kids and our zoo. To say that I felt absolutely sick to not leave the house with him at 4:05am this morning, is an understatement. Andrew is so strong, and he assured me (why the heck was he assuring ME?) that he would be fine on his own, and yet I feel strangely empty and scared tonight. And, yet, we both know and trust that his appointment with Dr. Swisher tomorrow will be cause for great celebration and a wonderful reminder of how fortunate and lucky we truly are.

The past 6 months have been a bit of a blur. Cancer is very strange that way. Time almost stands still at times, and yet when health returns, and normalcy appears, its easy to resume life as you knew it before and time begins to evaporate again. That said, its far too easy for me to talk about this, as I am NOT the one who has had cancer. I am NOT the one who has had massive thoracic surgery. I am NOT the one who has had part of his lung removed. I am NOT the one who has lost a father to the same cancer that I have had to fight. Its far too easy for me to talk about how the last 6 months have been. Quite frankly, its far too easy for me, as I am NOT the one fighting cancer. I am merely the spouse…

And, yet I will tell you that Andrew has been nothing short of amazing since his lung cancer diagnosis. He recovered from his surgery with such grace and such strength and as soon as he was able, he was walking the dogs, and hiking our local mountain, and then in short order, skiing at our local ski resort. And then before I knew it, he was skiing at altitude and pushing the limits of his lung capacity, and celebrating with quiet joy how far he had come in such a short time. All the while, feeling “different”, all the while knowing that his reality was forever changed. All the while, quietly aware that each day was a gift beyond anything he had ever been able to comprehend prior to last July.

Of course, we feel that tomorrow will bring nothing but great news. We have no reason to think otherwise, and yet cancer is this persistent shadow. Life goes on, and joy returns, and yet there is always this shadow. Sometimes its more noticeable, and sometimes, you can’t see it even if you try. Yet, its always there. A dull and sometimes even a dark shadow…

Just last week we lost a friend to cancer. A young father with an incredible zest and joy for life, and a very, very dear friend to two of our best friends. Why him? Why was this Steve’s story? Why is this Andrew’s story? Its been a horribly sad time to mourn the loss of Steve. And its also been another reminder of how fortunate we are…even if there is perhaps some guilt imbedded in our gratitude. Yet, our gratitude is DEEP. And we sincerely share in the collective grief for Steve’s passing.

So, I am here in Boulder, and Andrew is there in Houston. And I feel so far away from him, despite our consistent contact today. I know where he is. I can see it. I can feel it. I can smell it. And quite frankly, in all of MDA’s incredible amazingness  and magic, its a hard place to be, even worse alone. Cancer is not something I would wish on anyone, and I am also deeply grateful for our experience and journey with lung cancer, thus far. We are truly the lucky ones.

Love,

Brooke

 

 

Fear…

Fear: an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.

I have had many people ask me recently if I am afraid. My surgery is in 4 days, and no doubt about it, it is a big deal. Thoracic surgery, incisions in my chest, the removal of parts of my lung and some lymph nodes. And from what we have learned from others who have been down this path, it is a big recovery. On top of that there is the usual surgical risks. Anesthesia, human error, and infection, the practice of medicine. Hospitals unfortunately are not the healthiest of places. In many respects at this very moment I face greater risks from the surgery than I do from the cancer. Of course this is a false argument, the cancer is the real threat, and is getting stronger every day. The surgery is the path to health and healing, yet requires some pain and discomfort to get there.

Based on the dictionary definition of fear it seems like a logical question to ask. I certainly have had some “unpleasant emotions caused by the belief that something is dangerous and likely to cause pain”. Guaranteed to cause pain is more like it! Yet given all of that I don’t feel that fear is the right description for what I have been feeling over the last few weeks, and especially over the last few days. Instead I am feeling more uncertainty than fear.

Uncertain: not able to be relied on; not known or definite.

I still struggle to wrap my head around the reality that I have cancer. Perhaps because I don’t have any symptoms? Perhaps I am in denial? Maybe it is just a matter of time? 4 weeks is just the beginning of adjusting to a new reality, a reality that in a single instant has changed the trajectory of my life. The dawning of a new perspective on what it means to live, and what it means to palpably feel the vulnerability and fragility of life up close and personal. I am resigned to the surgery as a necessary step in the process. After all what choice do I have? Let the cancer grow, pretend it will go away? And I have been down the surgical path before. This will be the 6th time in my life that I have been put under anesthesia. I am a relative veteran compared to some. Brooke has never undergone surgery, and in fact never spent the night in a hospital! I have the benefit of context and like any endeavor you have done before it is always “easier” the next time through.

Yet the uncertainty remains. Has the cancer spread (they will do a flash biopsy of some lung lymph while I am on the operating table)? Will there be post operative complications? How much of my lung will they remove? Will I be able to regain my full aerobic functioning? And God forbid could something go catastrophically wrong? The answer is probably a resounding NO to all of the above. And yet the uncertainty gnaws at the edges of my resolve and confidence. I am reminded of my past and the mountaineering instructors who would encourage me that if I was not a bit nervous and afraid then I wasn’t paying attention. Climbing has inherent risks, and many rewards as well. We rely on the equipment, we become proficient in the technique, and we trust our partners. The subjectivity of the environment and the mountain can never be fully mitigated. Much the same with my surgery. We have done everything we can, have an amazing team in place at one of the top hospitals in the world, etc. The rest is in God’s hands.

So am I afraid? Yes I would have to acknowledge that I am. Not every minute, in fact far less than I had expected. Yet it is there on the margin, a thin ribbon of concern.  Certainly there is anxiety to be stepping into the void, yet because of the paths I have already walked in my life, I know I have the mental, physical, and spiritual strength to walk across this pit of fire. Instead there is a different type of fear, focused more on a perceived threat. And this “threat” nips subtly at my consciousness. A concern that I will come through this, heal, and quickly forget the lessons that have unfolded for me in the last 4 weeks. The benefits of cancer; the intimacy and connection with myself, family, and friends. That when I am cancer free and healed I will once more step into the fog of being unaware. Succumb to the fiction of a perceived future. The enticing lure of ambition and external achievement above all else. The trap of gauging self worth based on external validation. The fantasy that time, health, and “tomorrows plans” are limitless.

I want to remember everyday from here forward what I so acutely feel today – that everyday is truly a gift. A gift to be cherished, shared, and not wasted. And I want to live my life in gratitude to all of those whose love supports me, and to whom I can support with my love. I want to stay awake.

Love yourself and be awake –

Today, tomorrow, always.

First establish yourself in the way,

Then teach others,

And so defeat sorrow.

To straighten the crooked

You must first do a harder thing –

Straighten yourself.

You are your only master.

Who else?

Subdue yourself,

And discover your master.

– Dhammapada

Hopi Prayer

I am the soft stars that shine at night

Do not stand at my grave and weep

I am not there

I do not sleep

I am a thousand winds that blow

I am the diamond glints on the snow

I am the sunlight on the ripened grain

I am the gentle Autumn’s rain

When you awaken in the morning hush

I am the swift uplifting rush

Of quiet birds circled in flight

I am the soft stars that shine at night

Do not stand at my grave and cry

I am not there

I did not die

– Hopi Prayer

 

New Morning

As your faith is strengthened you will find that there is no longer the need to have a sense of control, that things will flow as they will, and that you will flow with them, to your great delight and benefit.  ~Emmanuel

 

Wow. What a difference a night can make. Andrew left in the early part of the evening last night with Miller and two friends with plans to hike a few 14’ers today near Breckenridge. Chasie was having a particularly emotional evening and very weepy and scared about Andrew’s cancer. She was torn about whether to go with them, or not. Not really wanting to go, yet concerned that Andrew would be sad, and concerned that Andrew might never hike a 14’er again after his surgery. We both encouraged her to stay home and I invited her to have a sleep over with me. She liked that, took a nice shower, and settled into our bed with her book. Lang also cried last night. She expressed her fears that Daddy might have a heart attack on the mountain “because of his cancer”. Of course, we assured her that Daddy’s heart was in excellent shape and that he would be fine. Our dear precious, Andrea, has encouraged us to keep reminding the kids that everything will be ok, no matter what. No matter the outcome, no matter the prognosis, no matter the experience. Because, of course, everything WILL be fine. There is so much love and holding and FAITH, and with that, how can everything not be fine? Yet, last night, Andrew and the boys left, I spent time getting the girls settled and calm, and I sat down to write and share the news of the day. I was struggling and I was scared and more than anything, I was sad. Sad for Andrew, sad for our kids, and perhaps a bit sad for myself. Yet, again – I am AMAZED at the grace in which our community of family and friends continues to hold us. I wrote, I trusted to share and I felt calmer. THANK YOU.

So, as I said, what a difference a night can make. Andrew read my post last night and wrote to me thanking me for posting. I offered to delete the blog and his response was “no, the post was amazing and right on”. He reflected on how sobering the afternoon call was, and that upon reflection, he was holding STRONG. He used words like FAITH, SURVIVE, GRATITUDE, LIGHT, ACCEPTANCE, PERSERVERE, LOVE, and STRENGTH. Andrew, the man with the cancer, picked me up and held ME, last night. He gracefully reminded me of all that I already know, and in turn, reaffirmed his own faith and strength.

And this morning, I awoke to the most incredible expressions of love and support and reminders of FAITH. And I assure you, that Andrew and I are in a place of deep FAITH and love and TRUST. I have heard from many that with a cancer diagnosis also brings a roller coaster of experiences and emotions, and I can attest to this. For now, and for today (or at least for this moment), I am in a strong place, standing beside Andrew. In love, in grace, in strength, in light, in LOVE.

I am in such deep appreciation for ALL of YOU who are holding Andrew, praying for him and loving him. And I am humbled. And I am in a place of great delight this morning. THANK YOU.

Love,

Brooke