You know those moments in life where you know on the other side of the chasm sits an abruptly different reality than the one you know right now. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not but it’s always different. And sometimes, if we’re lucky, we get to toe right up to the edge, peek over the side and take a breath before you step across. But we always have to step across. One big breath, one foot, then the other, then repeat.
My experience in this has been limited, primarily anchored in me holding my breath staring at a pregnancy test that hadn’t yet revealed two pink lines. Knowing if that stick confirmed what I physically suspected, our lives would be forever altered. These breathless moments, waiting, were full of optimism and excitement for a future we very much wanted. One big breath, one foot, then the other, then repeat.
I’d honestly forgotten about this rare moment, knowing life fundamentally changes and stepping forward, until it happened again recently.
On a Saturday morning in December, I was snapping photos of my kids in a theater as they chowed down on popcorn and cotton candy, excitedly waiting for Paw Patrol Live to start. My husband was sick and stayed home so I took my kids solo; it was truly a delightful morning.
3 minutes before the show starts, a Whatsapp message to my family’s chat from my dad, letting us know he’s sent an email with an update on his back pain. Back pain he’d been experiencing since April, had been going to PT for and a few days prior, had gotten an MRI. Expecting a routine update, something about a pulled muscle or something else annoying/inconvenient but overall, minor, I tapped into my email and refreshed to open ‘Back and Hip Updates’. I found an email with several dense paragraphs that I knew I wouldn’t be able to fully read before Paw Patrol started so I skimmed and saw words I was not prepared for:
‘there’s no other way to say it: the news is bad.’
‘a fast-growing and invasive tumor’
I gasped sharply and pulled myself back from peering over the edge of my future reality and closed my email. I brought myself into the present, with tears in my eyes as the lights dimmed and those goofy-ass Paw Patrol actors danced their way on stage and captivated my little boys attention. I told my brain we’d deal with this later but right now, I was going to stay on this side of the divide.
Of course I’d need to read the email. I’d need to understand my new reality – the future I wasn’t ready for and didn’t want. But I knew enough from my skim to know, my world and my family’s world will forever be different on the other side of the chasm. And, even more rare than knowing you’re facing the chasm, is to get to decide when to stop dilly dallying and take the step forward to cross.
And reader, I dilly dallied like a pro for rest of the morning and some of the afternoon.
I liked the reality I lived in – where my dad doesn’t have a tumor, doesn’t probably have cancer, where I expect he will be around for years and years to come to hug my little boys who love him so much. Where I’m 1,200 miles away but it’s okay because we have regular visits and vacations to spend time together. Where I don’t have to explain to my kids that cancer isn’t necessarily a death sentence like they believe now because the only person we’ve talked about with cancer is his Grandma Pat who died of breast cancer 30+ years ago. But also, maybe it is.
But alas, our only choice is to move forward. One big breath, one foot, then the other, then repeat.
On the other side of the chasm: my dad has diffuse large B-cell lymphoma with a sub-type as indicated by genetic testing called: ‘double hit lymphoma’. While lymphoma is fairly common (as the internet tells me), this double hit is more uncommon and generally less good. This week, he’s done an EKG to make sure his heart is strong enough for chemo, will get a port installed so they can easily pump chemicals directly into his heart and a PET scan on Thursday to determine where the cancer is exactly in his body at this point, and finally, a follow up with his oncologist Friday before starting chemo Monday. He’s shaving his head Sunday to tell lymphoma, ‘you don’t get to run the whole show, ya jerk’ and exert some agency where there is little to have. He will do 6 rounds of chemo, with the first one in-patient at the hospital, then at home for 2-6 if his body tolerates it well. And we will see what happens as we go.
One big breath, one foot, then the other, then repeat.