I made a deal with the Sun: You keep rising every morning from behind the smokestacks that hover over the buildings on Roosevelt Island, and I’ll fight another day.
And then every morning I’d wait, watching the waves on the East River, at first a deep, midnight blue, and then solid gray, and finally, brownish gray as the Sun kept its promise to me. I’d slide off my bed, careful not to yank out the tubes carrying the orange drugs into my arm, and roll my chemo pole into the bathroom.
The Sun was up, and so was I. As promised. But my end of the bargain was harder to keep.
“You made it all look not so bad,” a friend recently told me. She was referring to my chronicle of my fight with cancer, on GoodHousekeeping.com and here on MommaSaid.net. Ah, but that was in real time when I had to convince everyone around me that everything would be alright — when I had to convince myself. Besides, I had a deal with the Sun.
But the nights were hard. At night, there were no visitors. Well, except for one 10 p.m. appearance by my oncologist and, of course, the nurses who brought me my pain killers, changed my chemo bags and woke me up to take my blood pressure. (Really now. Why?) Late at night, there were no phone calls, and I couldn’t risk waking up my roommate by turning on the TV to lose myself in the oh-so-tragic ongoing coverage of Paris Hilton’s jail sentence. (Twenty-three days? Boo-hoo, Paris. Boo-hoo.)
At night, there was just me and cancer, and hours until the Sun would come up again.
Conventional wisdom says that people who have a “good attitude” during cancer — the fighters, the entertainers, the smilers in the face of adversity — have a better shot at surviving. This fighter believes that’s a terrible burden to put on someone who is so very sick. Let us break down. Let us let go. Let us cry. Let us lean on you until we summon up enough strength to face another day — with or without the Sun.
I have a theory that people either have “The Know” or they don’t. The Know is a to-the-core understanding of how very close we are to losing our lives every single day. It comes from having been near death or from watching someone else close to you go through a tragedy or leave us altogether. It’s a real-life experience of the Sword of Damocles story, wondering when the horse hair will break.
It’s The Know that makes it that much harder to fight, and yet, that much more worthwhile. It’s losing your innocence all at once, rather than in bits and pieces over a lifetime. But it’s also the reason to push forward, however hard that may be, a reason to face another day. It’s what separates the fighters from the people who don’t make deals with the Sun.
So go ahead, fighters. Show them the good attitude. Smile. Laugh. Wait for the Sun to rise outside your window. And when it does, know that you’re not alone. Not now, not ever. Not here in The Know.
Author’s Note: I wrote this for my friend Amy’s mother, who is battling cancer now. She spent the holidays and much of January in the hospital, and is slated to return soon for a stem cell transplant. Her hospital bed overlooks Lake Michigan, facing the sunrise. This one’s for her, and for my neighbors Mitch and Nicole, who are in the big fight now.