Sometimes life landmarks just sneak up on you. Today marks the five-year anniversary of my final cancer treatment, which is more than just a number on a calendar; this marks the day that I am no longer in remission. I am officially cured.
I should feel happy right?
I do. I feel lucky and strong and healthy and accomplished, but the day is incomplete without my partner through it all. Of course I am speaking of my mother. I look back on my illness and all I can see now are the months of her by my bedside. When I was in the hospital she would spend many nights curled up in a tiny ball on the chair next to me in spite of my insisting she go home to her bed. I always meant it when I said I would be fine on my own for the evening, but when I would wake up at 2am in pain, seeing her asleep nearby, I felt relief.
On the hardest days, when I was really sick of being sick my mother would tell me to close my eyes. She would run her fingers gently along my arms and up to my hairline and she would say, “imagine it is years from now; you are healthy and happy and your life is far away from hospitals and doctors. You will look back on this time and you won’t remember exactly how much it hurt or how long it lasted, it will become a blip on your radar. You will eventually struggle to remember the moments you thought were so painful you could never forget.”
She was right. I remember the bone marrow biopsy that I swore hurt more than anything I had ever experienced, but now my memory isn’t of the pain. What I can recall is her face through the bars of the hospital bed, her always cool tiny hands clutching mine and the expression of a love so deep that she felt my pain through it. Looking straight at her reminded me that my life was still going on and some familiar things remained. Because of her, my memory of that procedure is not a bad one, but rather a moment where we were together and connected. Someday I will love my children this deeply in part because of that five minutes where I saw her, caring, selfless and desperate to take me away from it all. She just looked me right in the eyes and squeezed; I cried and she cried and then it was over.
I never thought then that when I reached this day she wouldn’t be here with me. We talked about spending the day going out to eat and laughing and not talking at all about cancer. I should have planned something for the day so that I could appreciate what a milestone it is, but without her I cannot truly celebrate the way we had expected. I am cured in the moments when I think about how lucky I was to get that time with her, I would do it all again if it meant I was near her.
Today is just one moment in time. In several hours it will be over and I begin the next chapter of my life as a healthy twenty-something without the worries of CAT scans and check ups. She and I got through it together and for that I am forever changed. When I look back it will all be a blip on the radar, but everything that she was and all the things she did for me will define my thoughts and actions always.