Chemo’s Gift to Me
I grew up in an unhappy home. Parents always fought about money. Had a grandma who was always asking for money every month from her 5 sons. Which itself wasn’t the biggest problem. But that she was super rude in asking for it. 3am phone calls. Ranting and raving. Commanding instead of requesting. The end result for the sons were that all their marriages ended in divorce. Well, except for the son who was my father. I remember being scared most of my life. Afraid of the yelling and screaming. Afraid that someone would get hurt. Afraid of the violence, broken dishes, shattered bottles. And the next time. There was always a next time. Until I turned 12 or 13 I sat up in bed one night, adrenaline pumping through my temples as the familiar screaming began, and decided I was sick of being scared. I didn’t like the feeling of powerlessness. Of isolation. Of abandonment. I chose to become angry.
From then on, I lived life angry on the inside, at times exploding on the outside. But I thought that turning 18 and going to college would end all that. As long as I could get away, move out of my parents house, all my troubles would be over. So I moved out of to the West coast for school and left my former life behind me. Or so I thought. But a chilling realization dawned on me. I wasn’t afraid anymore. I was no longer angry. But I didn’t know how to be happy. There were moments of excitement but by default the emotional meter always returned to “meh.”
Until cancer struck. Like so many women in the Bay Area I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. Being so young, I opted for surgery plus the strongest chemo available. 12 weeks of medication. The beginning wasn’t too bad, but by the last month I was dreading the complete lethargy and neural pain that came with the Taxol treatment. So much pain that I couldn’t walk to the bathroom. Water tasting like metal. And not being able to sleep at night. Hours of insomnia and loneliness. In contrast, the subsequent week after treatment, I felt completely normal. Driving around, taking care of kids, putting on makeup, watching TV were all possible again. The contrast of the following week was stark. Lethargy, pain every where, inability to walk straight, discomfort around the clock. I decided those weeks were not really “living” at all. They were just existing. And that is when it occurred to me that if I had only 1 more year or 3 more years to live, I was going to be thankful. I would be done with chemo, I would have a chance to eat, move, breathe, sleep like normal again, and if I never wrote a book, became a C-level exec, founded a successful start-up or became famous, like my college friends, it wouldn’t matter. Because I was living again- I was being given that chance to live, not just exist. Vacuuming, doing the dishes, cooking good meals, going to work at a non-glamorous job, and playing games with my kids were more than enough for a Happy Life.
Chemo taught me happiness. Priceless.