Last night, I broke our nighttime ritual which can be dangerous with a toddler. We usually have a bath, read books, sing a song and then go to bed. But last night he asked if we could watch one of his favorite cartoons, Feast, before bed. Normally that would be out of the question but I didn’t have it in me to say no. So, we walked over to the couch, snuggled together and watched and laughed at all the parts we always laugh at.
Yesterday I found out that someone I met just one time at a party died three weeks ago. We met at my neighbor’s son’s birthday party. We both had cancer. We saw each other from across the room, me with my head wrapped in a scarf, her with a simple hat on her head. We knew instantly. She was there with her husband and her two and a half year old son. Her name was Christina.
We sat down and discussed what kind of cancer we had, where we were being treated, how we were handling chemo. It was the first time I have ever felt guilty for not being sicker. She had stage 4 gastric cancer. She was dying. The chemo was keeping her alive and she knew that when her body could no longer take the effects of treatment, the cancer would progress and she would die. She thought about a year. We were both in the middle of chemotherapy but she looked sicker to me, more tired and weaker. It broke my heart.
Christina lit up the room that day. She smiled and took pictures of everyone’s children on her phone, documenting every moment. She laughed, told stories and mingled. Christina loved her son. She didn’t talk about it much but you could see it in her eyes when she looked at him. He meant everything to her and she was fighting for every minute to be with him.
I often thought about Christina after we met, wondering if I should contact her, try to befriend her. It never felt right. I didn’t want to intrude on her time. I felt that reaching out would be more about me. About doing “the right thing.”
Then there is the other side of the coin. I didn’t want to get too close to someone I knew that I was going to lose, who would make me face my mortality every time we spoke or met.
I don’t know which one is more selfish. I don’t know which one is more selfless. Is there ever a right answer when it comes to cancer? Is there ever a right answer when it comes to loss?
My worst nightmare since being diagnosed with cancer has not been the treatment, the alteration of my body or missing out on life. It has been the possibility of leaving Oliver without a mother. What it must be like to lose a mother at such a young age, I can’t even fathom.
Alone at night, when I couldn’t sleep, I would imagine that, if I died, that he’d call out for me, look for me in rooms, wonder why I had abandoned him. Wonder if I loved him and what he had done to deserve my leaving him. Because children don’t always understand, not when they are so young.
Christina and her family lived and are living that nightmare. Cancer has taken her away and that’s not ok.
I will honor Christina’s memory by giving Oliver extra kisses, snuggling for just one second more, putting my phone down more often, taking deeper breaths when he is acting out, rubbing my nose and cheeks in his curls every day and being grateful that I get to see him grow up, experience his daily changes. I will never, ever take that for granted.
I was at a store recently and I met a woman who is a 6 year survivor of breast cancer. She said to me that she is better because of cancer. Today, the world is worse off because of it. How can cancer be good when it brings pain, breaks up families, leaves children without their mommies? This point of view, I will never understand. Especially today.
Christina, I will never forget you.