Do you remember the DMV issued driver handbook that was filled with things you should know when operating a motor vehicle? I read that book over 15 years ago and yet one term in particular still sticks with me. Splitting the difference.
Splitting the difference is what you do when you are faced with dangers on both sides. You move to the middle, giving the greatest attention and space to whichever appears to be the greater danger at that moment.
After my impromptu wrestling match with the deadliest form of leukemia these last few months, splitting the difference seems to be the most appropriate way to explain my current approach to life. It’s not about finding balance as a stable, constant place. It’s about finding the ever moving safe zone between living in fear and actually living.
When you’re actively fighting cancer, remission is the golden dangling carrot that you and everyone around you prays for. Aside from the health and well being of my children I cannot think of anything I’ve been more willing to fight for.
I’ve spent the past few weeks reviewing the last six months in my head. Over and over like an athlete watching game footage. I’m still trying to process everything that has happened. To find the weak parts of my game where I could have improved. To spot the pivotal moments that led to my still being here. To try and determine if the feelings I felt were indeed the truth, or were they what I told myself I felt in order to survive? Does it even matter?
Why haven’t I felt angry? Perhaps because I’ve always been a realist and sadly we all know that cancer is a popular enemy these days. Should I have been more of an emotional wreck? Did I handle it the right way? Was I TOO okay? Does that mean there is a ticking time bomb buried inside my brain waiting to go off and flood me with all of these emotions? Am I one day going to find myself on the floor of the home decor aisle in Target having a nervous breakdown? Or will I continue to push my cart up and down those aisles like I have for years without incident.
Or the REAL question and fear I live with now. Will it come back?
About halfway through my treatment, what I feared shifted a bit. The fear of never reaching remission and just plain dying gave way to a combination of fear of never reaching remission and also a fear of reaching remission.
Yes, I realize that’s a bit nutty. But it suddenly occurred to me that if I did in fact achieve the much desired stamp of remission, that with it would come a new and perhaps bigger fear.
The fear that I will always be walking down a dark alley, waiting for AML to jump out of the shadows where it was lurking and come back.
After all, what is remission really? I think we as a society tend to see the word remission as interchangeable with cured. The thing about remission is that when you actually look at the definition it means a respite or temporary recovery.
Remission means you won the battle. Remission also means you’ve entered a lifelong war in which you are left to constantly question how long that life will be. Will the enemy go dormant for a few months? A year? Two? Twenty? Will they reappear on the western front, where you’ll be watching for them? Or will they fake you out and show up somewhere else?
You can make yourself crazy pondering this. You can look up mortality rates, plunge into published studies and try to pick out the data that might represent you. I know because I’ve tried. It’s futile. Even with statistics, you have no idea which side of the coin you’re going to end up on.
Of course it’s no way to live, obsessing about this. A few times a day my mind goes down the remission rabbit hole. Then I throw a rope down there and pull myself back out. I get back on the road to normal and continue to learn to split the difference.
To find a way to embrace the life I want to live and hopefully deserve to live. All while acknowledging that my worst fears are a real possibility. Splitting the difference means figuring out how to be vigilant and guard this second chance I have so graciously been given, while also trying to remember how to live as I once did.
I have come to realize that this process is going to take some time. Okay, a lot of time. AML came into my life like a toddler ripping apart a room full of toys. It happened in the blink of an eye. As always, it takes a lot longer to clean up a mess than it does to make it, right?
A week ago, Craig asked me if cancer had changed how I felt or my perspective on life. That’s a big question. I wasn’t prepared to give an answer right away because it felt like a question that deserved more consideration.
The words I keep coming back to are grateful and lucky. I feel lucky to have had the chance to fight. I feel grateful to have the army we have had fighting with us. When I think about everything that everyone has done for us, the waterworks starts. I am embarrassed at the amount of snot and tears that have come out of me trying to write these last few words.
However shocking and scary my diagnosis was or is, it is significantly outweighed by the tide of love and support our family has received. It rushed in and took over. Family, neighbors, friends new and old, parents from school, employers, co-workers, clients and even near strangers on the Internet. Doctors, nurses, and everyone in that hospital, from the women who came to clean my room to the men and women who delivered my meals.
Science and medicine took the cancer cells out of my body. But the people who have been here for us are the ones who saved my life. I have no doubt that without them I would not be sitting here.