Yesterday was Mother’s Day. A strange Mother’s Day for sure, but a day of celebration, nonetheless. A day to look forward to in a sea of non-celebratory days.
Today is today. Today is NOT Mother’s Day. There will be no celebration, no special food nor bubbly drink. Today is a Monday, a day we pay bills, file for unemployment, get back to business. Today is for grieving.
During cancer treatment, I had 2 different types of chemotherapy. One occurred pre-surgery, neoadjuvant chemo. That was a series of 6, occurring every 3 weeks. It was in a clinical trial to see how that drug worked compared to the standard drug being used for HER-2 positive breast cancers. This drug left my hair intact, my digestive system in peace. It was targeted chemotherapy, treating the cancer directly, rather than slamming the whole body.
The second type of chemotherapy I received was a standard drug used post-surgery to clean up any remaining cancer cells, aimed at preventing metastatic cancer. That drug entered my system once a week for 12 weeks. It claimed my platinum blonde hair on week 4, drove out my very last eyelash on May 4, 2018. The fourth was definitely NOT with my eyelashes.
Regardless of the drug, the day of the week, or the number of days between being shot up, I learned early on that there were 2 days I could count on with every infusion. There would be a day for treatment. And there would be a day for grief.
Treatment days were, for the most part, days I enjoyed. There were a few that were heavy on the anxiety. Day one of Western medical treatment 7/12/2017, I was scheduled to start the pre-surgery clinical trial drug. I’d been planning for this day since 6/13/17 (day of diagnosis). My kids were being cared for. I had an early morning ride to Boston, lab work at 7am, visit with Dr. at 8. But then at 3pm we were still waiting for word from a California lab that my biopsies had been looked at, that I qualify for the study. There was talk of “going home and coming back tomorrow,” talk I would not abide. I was wearing my caped Wonder Woman knee socks and my lucky yellow undies. This was not a “come back tomorrow” sort of outfit. We got final approval in time for me to start the infusion (slower on the first round) and finish up at 8pm, official closing time of the Infusion center.
The treatment days that pushed me to my emotional limits were the ones tainted by newness or riddled with unknowns. On those days, the news was unclear, the waters ahead murky. More often than not though, treatment days were predictable, news was positive. I showed up as strongly as I could on treatment days, ‘rainbow and sparkle’ adorned. I learned that the best course of action was to stay present, ready to weather whatever the day handed me, focused on being with “what is so” in the world of cancer treatment that day.
The grieving days were different. They were colored more faintly, grey here, muted yellow there. Their occurrence in relation to treatment days varied slightly. Oral steroids pre-treatment could delay their onset, add a manic flavor. At their finest, grieving days were all of it, painful and necessary and beautiful and cathartic. They left me feeling cleansed, forgiven, able to carry another weight, conscious of my place in the Universe. The light seemed different on those days, more ethereal, a reminder that life is impermanent, and humans are fragile. My heart ached as I connected with the fullness of it all, the heartbreaking and beautiful experience of being human.
There was much to grieve: a body burdened by illness; a loss of innocence; paths not taken; relationships lost. The grieving days were a vital part of my healing. They allowed me to confront and process emotions that I was often too busy to deal with. To grieve is to release, to release is to heal. Painful as they may have been, I could not have healed without them.
So much of what we are all experiencing courtesy of COVID-19 reminds me of my experience during cancer treatment. Some of these days are for grieving too. May you find the healing after the grief.