About a year after I had finished my run-in with breast cancer, Tony Snow (the former White House press secretary) returned to television for the first time since having been diagnosed with colon cancer. It was a school/work morning and Rich and I were trying to get ourselves and the kids up and out the door. “The Today Show” was on and we were half listening to the interviewer when he asked Tony for reflections on what he had been through. He responded by saying that it was “the best year of his life.” Rich looked at me and asked me if I knew what he meant. Indeed, I did.
Whether it is cancer, or a death or a divorce or a little boy announcing that he is really a girl, difficult life experiences have this crazy ability to turn logic on its ear and prove to be wonderful times in one’s life. Sounds insane, I know. But, having had my fair share of trying times, I can honestly say that with each crisis, once the hysterical part of it has passed, I am a little bit better for it. I am a little bit stronger and have a whole lot more faith in mankind. Would I wish for any of these things? No fucking way. But in a strange and beautiful way, I wouldn’t take them back, either.
I always thought that feeling this way was peculiar at best, morbid at worst. Not really a glass half full kinda gal, it isn’t necessarily my nature to find the positive in any given situation. It is easier to get caught up in the fear, anxiety, anger and “why me?” than to see the upside of things like facing down a bi-lateral mastectomy just days after my father-in-law lost his battle and my father was en route to losing his. I could have opted for a complete shutdown when I landed in the hospital with a herniated disc in my back which provided me with what I can easily say was the worst pain imaginable. And when George came to us to tell us that he felt that he was a girl, it would have been simpler to keep it to ourselves, go underground as best we could and simmer in the angst that any parent would feel when their child makes such a major announcement. But, when you see the love, support, encouragement and strength that the people in your life are willing (no, not willing, but eager) to share with you, it results in a paradigm shift that can only be fully appreciated during well, a crisis.
Like many people, I am not particularly good at asking for help. It used to be a source of pride for me – an indication that I was a strong and capable woman. And then I got sick. My family and I needed help with the everyday crap that doesn’t go away. We needed dinners, and drivers and shoppers. Once I acquiesced, it was mere hours before a cooler was outside our door and a sign-up list was fully populated. We were fed, driven and attended to for weeks and weeks and weeks. It not only saved us in the day to day, it saved our spirit, too. (It also served to add several pounds to my midsection – a few too many delicious lasagnas with brownie chasers!)
Right now, no one (thank G-d) is ill. No one is physically compromised. We are, however, emotionally spent and mentally exhausted, yet not struggling. We aren’t struggling thanks to the undying support we have gotten from family, friends and even strangers. Those who approach me (even those who do so tentatively) are ready to lend their support in any number of different ways: maybe it is by forwarding an article or sending a gift certificate (go Justice! go Clairs!), or passing along clothing their daughters have outgrown…it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that everyone, to a person, has reminded us that we are loved. And, any time you know you are loved is always a good contender for “the best year of your life”, no?
I’m not going to lie – this ain’t easy. At every turn lurk surprises, successes and failures. I have no idea how this is all going to play out but I do know that everyone in my family, perhaps my life, will be different (read: better) for it. There are moments, hours, even days that I pray for a rewind to life before (such as it was), but I know, deep down, that I will someday be able to look back at this and be grateful for the lessons learned.