Ten Special Years

This brief entry is a special note to my family, by blood and by choice.

I just wanted to share with you all that today, the Friday before Mother’s Day, is the tenth anniversary of the day we learned Emily had breast cancer. These past ten years with her have been extra special because both of us have remained sensitive to the fragility of life and to how special it is. Every day we are reminded that living a good, successful life requires work, education, courage, initiative, lots of creativity, and a community of loved ones like you. The rest is pretty much a crapshoot: Some of us make it; some of us don’t.

We were reminded throughout that experience ten years ago of how special family is—our traditions, our special events, but, most of all, our closeness in times of need. What I learned then was that the closeness was there waiting to be expressed and shared but I had to make the first move, to allow you in, in order to experience it to its fullest. Humans are funny creatures, I discovered. At the exact time when we need attention and help the most, that’s the time when those who can provide it often withhold it because they think it will make us awkward. By giving us attention, they think they are reminding us of something we don’t want to think about—as if there is a second of the day when we are not thinking about it anyway. So when we need help, we often, in effect, have to give others permission to provide it.

I didn’t know that at the time. I just wrote in my journal and shared it on our family listserv, like I have so often done on so many venues in so many circumstances over the years. The result this time, though, was a steady stream of emails and prayers and calls and visits and other expressions of love that you gave to us. It made a difference to our recovery. It still does.

I also learned, as Emily’s support person, that, while the patient is the perceived victim, with good reason, the support person is the silent victim. Again, I didn’t realize it at the time. I never asked for help. But when you gave it to me anyhow and didn’t let me dismiss your efforts (“That’s okay. I can handle it”), I came to see how much I needed help, too. My literary result was the booklet Your Partner Has Breast Cancer?: 21 Ways to Keep Sane as a Support Person. Since then I’ve given lots of talks about being a support person for someone with breast cancer. I still try to make myself available if someone wants to talk.

Every May since Mother’s Day 2000, Emily has done something special to celebrate her life. Sometimes I celebrate with her; other times she celebrates on her own. One year she participated in the 3-day, 60-mile walk; I was there, too, volunteering as captain of the clean-up crew for the campers. Another year she visited Las Vegas with a friend and fellow survivor. Another year she used her frequent flyer mileage to visit extended family in the Netherlands. Tonight, the budget’s a little tighter so we’re hitting the road to spend a weekend at a bed and breakfast.

What I’ve discovered during these times together is that it isn’t where we go or what we do, or even if we do it together, as much as that we took the time to think about life, to celebrate it rather than taking it for granted. It can be pretty special if you do it right. It’s been good to us.