With a stage 4 cancer diagnosis, you get access to lots of services, especially if you have children. Everything from stuffed animals to a backpack of entertaining and educational materials to trips to making a video. I try to accept none of those. I can barely accept that I have a cancer diagnosis.
However, at one point, all events pointed to me doing a video with my family. I’m not generally an anxious person, but this activity leaves me fraught with anxiety.
What would we talk about? Will I cry in a way that renders it unusable? If I don’t cry, will I hold back so much that I risk being inauthentic? Will I get to say what needs to be said? What will I wear?
Even more, I worry about how the kids will handle it. They already carry an underlying worry about me, and they ask questions like, “When will Mommy die?” or “Do you have the energy to hug me?” Will this be horrible for them? How will I explain it to them?
Lately, to relax, I spend late nights watching comedy routines online. Jimmy Fallon is a current favorite, and Louis CK is a go-to as well. He can be a little off-color and not politically correct, but his humor does get me to see my life differently and more easily face some hard truths about myself.
Plus he makes me laugh.
Recently, I was struck by a part of his routine that goes something like this:
“We get completely annoyed when we don’t get exactly what we want. You are at a red light” (I am picturing a street in Manhattan) “and you see the guy in the far right lane, four lanes over from the left lane. And he wants to make a left turn. At that street. So he cuts to the left, in front of the three lanes of traffic, effectively blocking them until he can make his left turn.
“The whole time, he is giving this apologetic face, like, ‘Sorry, but this is my left. I need to turn left here.’
“Why can’t he just drive two blocks ahead and turn left there? It might not be ideal, it might not be his first choice, but it will get him there.
“ ‘But this is the way I like to go!’ he might respond. ‘The other way is just so inconvenient for me. And this is the way I always go.’”
Another story: Like many people, I have my favorite priest for Mass. And when I get there and notice that he isn’t, I brace myself for a less-than-familiar experience.
But at this Mass, when the unfamiliar priest spoke, I heard a familiar, Midwestern accent. And his way of speaking reminded me how much I love the inclusive nature of my experience of Midwesterners. I instantly transported to my happy place, despite not getting my first choice.
Dealing with this cancer diagnosis, in just about every way, is not my first choice. Like the driver, I tried to force my way down a life road that was more familiar but I couldn’t easily or directly reach, but I feel like I am finding another way to get there.
And like getting the guest priest at Mass, this route seems to be okay. When I stop and look around, at least today, this moment, I am feeling good. I can breathe and walk and think and laugh. And I can love.
And maybe, just maybe, despite being far from my first choice, this video on Saturday will work out alright after all.