And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
In my office, behind my desk, I have two tall bookshelves, bridged in the middle by a credenza. The bottom two shelves on each can’t be seen unless you step behind my desk…which is why they’ve become my catch-all. Anything that doesn’t have a place has a place there.
My Waltons memorabilia. A black glass mannequin head that I began painting, but never finished. Printer paper. Little brain games that I use for creativity exercises. A plastic doll, that I colored in with Sharpie markers, sleeping in a plastic crib. Piles of books I want to read. A fan. A reading lamp that plugs into a USB port. Boxes with my publicity photos. A book I borrowed from someone and I can’t remember who and so I keep it in case I remember.
You get the picture. It was a mess.
Over the last week, I’ve cleaned it out. I felt the need to de-clutter. Many of the books in my pile of to-reads went out to the Little Free Library, particularly if they’d been in the pile for over a year. Lots of stuff went in the garbage. Yes, I kept the borrowed book – I have an inkling of whose it is so I’ll hopefully return it. It felt good to clean up and throw out.
And then I came across a huge pile of cards and notes.
Purchased cards. Homemade cards. Notes written on stationary, lined paper, drawing pads. Cards from groups, from individuals, from people I know, from complete strangers. All from last summer, when I was dealing with breast cancer.
I’m not kidding when I say pile. They started in one corner of a shelf and must have, at some point, reached the top of the shelf and began to spill over into the back. Behind my to-read books, the cards spread out to cover the entire length of the bookshelf.
The night I found them, I sat down and read them all over again. These cards and letters kept me going through such a hard time. They made me laugh. They convinced me that I would get through it. And then they convinced me again when doubt returned over and over. And they let me know that I had a reason to get through it. I was necessary. I was needed.
After I was done rereading the cards, I stacked them neatly and threw them away.
I admit, I stood by the dumpster for a few minutes, wondering if I really wanted to get rid of something that meant so much to me, that got me through the hardest thing I’d ever experienced.
And I decided I did. To hang on to the cards was to hang on to cancer.
I read a column last Sunday by Milwaukee Journal columnist Philip Chard (@PhilipChard on Twitter), in which he wrote about grief and letting go. He spoke of his mother, who, when she lost her beloved husband, said, “You don’t forget. You move on.”
(Want to see the column? Go to: https://www.jsonline.com/story/life/green-sheet/advice/philip-chard/2018/03/15/grieving-process/417294002/)
I am not grieving someone beloved. I am, instead, trying to let go of the fear of that time, the uncertainty, the knowledge that I was sick when I wasn’t feeling sick at all, the lack of control, and back to the fear, the fear, the fear. I won’t forget. But I don’t want that time to take over who I am and where I am now.
It can be difficult because it’s not like the treatment door closed on the day I finished radiation. I am on a medication for the next five years, and this medication causes massive joint aches and fatigue and it exacerbates fibromyalgia. I no longer wake up and wonder if I’ll be in pain that day. Instead, I wonder how much pain I will be in, if I will be able to walk to the bathroom without holding on to the wall for support, if I will stand at the foot of one of our two flights of stairs and wish like hell we lived in a one-story home, if I will look at the dog and debate if it’s worth it to let her pee on the floor instead of taking her for a walk. These reminders of cancer are going to be with me for the next five years and I can’t move on from them.
But I’ve gotten rid of the cards and notes. The bio descriptions of my surgeon, my medical oncologist, my radiation oncologist. My “Guide To Breast Cancer”. My “Resources for Cancer Patients”. All of it, gone. No more clutter. Clear road ahead. Last summer isn’t forgotten. But I’m moving – limping – into a new spring.
But those cards. I loved and welcomed every one. I held them tightly before I let them go.
I won’t forget.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.