I hesitate to say “after cancer” although that’s technically where we are. It’s been such a whirlwind, and we’re still a bit in shock that our son had cancer in the first place. But to say “after” makes it sound like it’s over. And I’m not sure it’s ever really over. Will still sees his oncologists monthly; he gets prophylactic IV medication monthly to keep him from getting certain illnesses; his immune system is taking its sweet time to recover; and he has lab work, chest x-rays, echocardiograms, and PET scans on the schedule consistently as well. This is life after cancer. But there’s more.
Post-cancer life means I look at his color a lot. Does he look pale? Is he getting sick? It means I carry hand sanitizer in my car and pass it around every time we get in. It means I have to make myself not freak out when he has a nosebleed because it’s really just a nosebleed, and his platelets are fine. It means realizing that although I remember every chemo drug name, I can’t remember to take our forty library books back on time. It means feeling like someone punched me in the stomach every time I see one of those “These Childhood Foods Cause Cancer” articles, even though multiple oncologists have told us that there is no known cause for childhood cancers. It means having a physiological reaction beyond my control at the thought of going to the local surgery waiting room where we sat when Will had his tonsils removed. It means crying tears of joy when I look at him but wondering why we got to keep him here when so many other parents don't. Life after cancer means that in my weakest moments, I fear for my son’s life, even though he’s in remission.
But there’s more.
Life after cancer means I can look at my son and see a young man. He’s no longer a boy. Sure, he’s grown way more than one should in the middle of cancer treatment and his feet are larger than mine, but I just see him so differently now. His strength blows me away. His attitude is humbling to watch. And his maturity is impressive. He grew up while he was fighting for his life.
I also see two younger siblings who had to grow up a bit as well. When one member of a family has cancer, the whole family has cancer. We’ve watched them battle through some intense fears and come out on the other side. They’ve had to adjust and be flexible, even when it was hard. And they’ve watched Will get a whole lot of attention while they dealt with the sting of unfairness. They have each taught me so much.
Life after cancer means the tears no longer ask permission. They show up whenever they feel like it, and I don’t even care anymore. It means laughing and crying simultaneously with my husband. It means a deeper love in our marriage than we could have ever imagined. It means never forgetting the best or the worst of these months but knowing we were in it together.
It means choosing to slow down and enjoy each moment. It means reveling in the smallest bursts of happiness however they come. It means instantly recognizing pain in another’s eyes. It means standing in awe of creation all over again and looking at aging as a precious gift.
There are days when I wish we could go back to life before cancer. Many days. But I also wouldn’t want to miss these gifts.
“You’ve been given a gift, this profound connection to everything. Just look for it, and I promise it’s there, the collateral beauty.” -Collateral Beauty (2016)