I’ve lived a month in the two weeks since I posted my last blog entry. Here’s a rundown:
Two weeks ago my husband and I were woken in the middle of the night by the police banging on our door. It seems that the officer who was shining his flashlight into my husband’s face had pulled our car over for speeding, but when he got out of his own car to approach the driver, our car took off. He traced the license plate to our door, and after a few minutes of conversation we convinced him that we were not the criminals he was looking for. Our car had been stolen from in front of our house.
I’ll tell the story in full at some point (because it isn’t over yet), but in summary, we got the car back within 36 hours or so of being taken, and it was entirely undamaged. I figure somebody up there likes me.
As all of this was going on I was working hard to finish the details of a meeting I was putting together for a friend that began the following week on Long Island, New York. My flight left Sunday morning. After arriving, my friend and I ran errands and put the attendee packages together and dealt with the last minute drama that always happens before an event like this one. The event was in a beautiful location, and I was staying at an historic inn on the shore of the Long Island Sound. My room was big, with a great view of the marina, but as I opened the door and walked in I noticed that the carpet was damp in places and there was an unpleasant smell in the room – like a floral scent had been used to cover up a chemical one. I called the front desk to ask if the carpet had been cleaned in the room that day, and I was told that, yes, it had been. Based on this information I supposed that the damp carpet would dry and the smell would dissipate, so I tried to ignore it and do what I needed to do that day.
What I needed to do in addition to setting up for the event was to draft an amendment to the contract my company has with our biggest client. I had to get it done before my business partner went on vacation, which was happening at the end of the week. So instead of collapsing into bed that first night, I fired up the laptop and tried to get all of the things she and I had discussed into the document. I eventually got it done and sent it off.
The next day we finished up our preparations for the attendees’ arrival; some people were coming in that afternoon, some that evening, and some in the next morning, the day of the event. Also during the day I changed hotel rooms because the smell had become unbearable. I found out later it wasn’t from any carpet cleaning; apparently the old-fashioned floor unit air conditioner was leaking. Great. I breathed that all night. I’ll let you know if I sprout an extra head.
That evening we had dinner in the hotel restaurant with everyone who had come in at that point. It was a very enjoyable evening, with great food and interesting conversation. I was feeling extremely confident about the next day when I went back to my room that night.
Before turning in I looked at my email. I’d seen it on my phone of course, and there was a communication I needed to deal with before I went to sleep. After doing that I clicked on a message that I had originally intended to ignore, as it looked to be just a regular communication with a group of friends about a gathering I couldn’t attend since I was out of town. It wasn’t.
It was a request for prayer, sent by my husband (who had forgotten to take me off the distribution list). He prefaced the message by saying that I was out of town and therefore didn’t know what was going on. The prayer he requested was for my sister-in-law, my sister’s partner, who had been told that morning that she had cancer.
I called my mother immediately. She told me what they knew at the time, which was that the doctors were pretty sure it was cancer and they thought it might be really bad. But they didn’t have any of the tests back so they didn’t know exactly what was happening, and they wouldn’t know until the next day at the earliest.
My husband was trying to keep the news from me until my event was over, and I appreciated the gesture, but in a strange way I was glad to know what was happening. It gave me a chance to pray for her, too, which is what I did until I finally fell asleep.
The next day I got up very early and went to the venue to set up for the meeting. Everything went smoothly, but I didn’t tell my friend what was going on in my family. I didn’t see the point in upsetting her, and I was very happy swimming in de-Nile for the time being. Half way through the morning I got a call from my mother with the wonderful news that the cancer wasn’t the horrible scary type that we had feared, but a kind that could be treated and that had very low rates of recurrence. I guess I had been wound up more tightly that I realized, because when she told me the good news my knees buckled and I started to cry.
My sister-in-law’s story is far from over, but it isn’t my story to tell. She has decided to tell it herself. You can find her blog here.
I went through the rest of the day with a much lighter heart. The event finished off the next morning with breakfast at the hotel, and after it was done I hugged my friend goodbye and headed out. I was going to visit a dear friend at his family’s home, and I was glad to be going at all; I had decided the day before that if the news about my sister-in-law was bad that I would change my flight and come home immediately to be with my family. The good news allowed me to stay for the extra day and a half I had planned.
The rest of my trip was a boon. I had a great visit with my friend, and I got some rest. I approached that time with the focused intent to enjoy it as much as I could since I figured my life and the lives of my family would be anything but normal when I got back. And that has proved to be true.
Cancer is a horrible, destructive, frightening disease, because it seems to customize itself to its host. And even though they have statistics and they can chart probabilities based on the unfortunately large sample size of those whose cancers have gone before, it doesn’t make it much less scary than if we knew nothing. And even though I’ve lost other family members to cancer, this still feels completely unreal. It’s not something one gets used to outside of the oncology ward I reckon.
I suppose you’d expect me to wax eloquent about this being a wake-up call to pay more attention to the things that matter in life. The title of this post would suggest that, and I apologize for the bait-and-switch. The thing is, I don’t need a wake-up call – my alarm has been blaring for ages now. I do know what’s important and I believe I am successful in keeping those things in the forefront of my intent. I cling to my family. I revel in my friends. I believe in the power of love.
My sister-in-law’s cancer isn’t about me, so I have no great insights for you. What I do have is some anger and some sadness, and a whole lot of desire to be helpful. That’s it. I hope that’s enough.
The one thing I will say is that everything that has happened in the last two weeks has re-confirmed my commitment to living the life I want to live. It’s the only one I have and I can choose to live it fully or not. Because you never know what might happen, good or bad. There’s no point being afraid; shit happens whether you’re ready or not.
That’s it then, the great insight. I already knew it, but that’s not the issue. The question is, every day, do I live it?
photo credit: las – initially via photopin cc