The Routines of Bravery

The Routines of Bravery

‘Tis the season- for VOTY submissions! This year, the Powers That Be of BlogHer have put a word count cap on the submittable posts. For that reason, I have edited a few favorites down to the required 700 word max, and am republishing them here. (I know, Poppa must be so pleased.) Please enjoy these posts, and keep your fingers crossed for me come selection time!!!



It should never be routine- biting your nails for hours before dawn while someone you love gets pictures taken of tumors you can’t help but worry are growing. Yet letting it become routine is a comfort. Telling yourself one scan’s no different than the dozens that came before makes the anxiety easier to bear. Telling yourself you can adjust to anything, anything can become surviveable and commonplace is a necessity for existing beyond a diagnosis.

I remember our first visits to neurooncology so vividly, the aura of hopelessness that surrounds some people, the desire to simply look away- to not be contaminated.

So when we’re at the cancer center, I laugh. I talk to strangers and smile.

On Monday we joked in the waiting room, surrounded by fearful faces, oxygen tanks on dollies, colorful scarves and stubbly new hair. After our appointment we took the elevator down from the top floor.

There were two other people. A mother, steering a wheelchair, where her teenage daughter sat.

Her daughter was bald, a mostly healed scar ran across her scalp. I guessed three months since surgery. I recognized the facial swelling, she was taking steroids, which meant radiation. Her eyebrows told me her chemotherapy was oral.

The girl sat, dark, intelligent eyes forward. With M’s hat on she’d never see the scar on his head that matched hers.

I knew the look in her eyes. Directionless anger, mingled with hopeless fear, and the fear of hope.

Her mother smiled, cautiously, I knew her too. Determinedly optimistic. Brave from necessity. Terrified, helpless, with nothing to offer but love as she walked these halls.

The girl clutched a cane covered in floral patterns.

“Is that washi tape?”

“Yes!” her mother said, beaming. “We’re going to change it, though. She says it’s too bright for fall.”

The girl rolled her eyes. I saw the constantly embarrassed teenaged girl.

“Totally. Are you thinking something more Halloween-y? Skulls and crossbones?”

I hoped the girl would smirk. Her mother gave me a smile of heartbreaking gratitude.

I wanted to say, “I know what you’re going through.”

“This is my husband, he was diagnosed with stage four glioblastoma seven years ago.”

“He  was 24, we’d been engaged sixteen hours.”

“I know how terrifying it is be young and have cancer.”

“You’re not defined by this, unless you want to be. Either’s fine, so long as you make the most of your life. It can be filled with happiness.”

“We have three children. Our twins just turned five, we didn’t conceive them until after a year of chemotherapy.”

“It’s going to be okay.”

I wanted to show the mother how unfathomably normal brain cancer can become. How the brave face is part of the routine. I wanted to touch the girl. Lay my hand on her shoulder. Wheelchair bound, bald and doomed, she must feel a pariah. I wanted to tell her life is brutal, cold, and cruel, and unfathomably beautiful, generous, and good. Once you accept that in addition to terror and grief and bitter unfairness, there’s so much to revel in.

Instead I walked to the car. M squeezed my hand. “I wanted to take off my hat,” he said. That was all.

He meant, “I know it’s hard for you to see people you might be able to help and do nothing. You felt for that girl and pitied her and and didn’t pity her. You wanted to tell her mom it would be okay, that being brave is important, that her daughter knows and loves her. And I feel it too.”

I love him, that man who lives under a question mark.

Someday, one of our trips to the neurooncology suite won’t be smiles and solidarity.

One day, someday, our routine trip is going to end in an elevator going down, and I’ll be the one being brave, again.

Seven years, three months, and two days is a long time to live under a weight that turns the cancer clinic into a routine.

It’s the span of my adulthood. It’s the blink of an eye.

I live in simultaneous hope and fear of the day I know exactly what to say to make a scared teenaged girl smile.





Read the original version – at the old home of Becoming SuperMommy
Read more about M reading my mind here- Sometimes When Somebody Loves You
Read yesterday’s post here – Someday, Maybe, To My Transgendered Child



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Filed under: Cancer

Tags: Cancer, Chicago, Fear, Love

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