One of my favorite Christmas songs is Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses. Aside from the bass line and overall catchiness, the song is about missed connections and how sometimes things that you thought were going awry were really something amazing waiting to happen. It’s about the good and bad and in between.
Thanksgiving was hard this year, with extreme highs and lows that left me exhausted, struggling at times to get my bearings. If you’ve ever known or been a teenage girl, you might remember a certain epoch known as The Age Of Fifteen. It is a trial by fire age for all involved. When it coincides with things like ADHD drug shortages (for both the teen and the preteen boy, so double the fun, really) and chemo-induced mood swings and illness all wrapped up with a lovely bow, then we’ve really got a party on our hands. My daughter turned fifteen just after Thanksgiving amid this chaos, and things weren’t awesome. By which I mean that between the two of us, it was pretty much apocalyptic for a couple of weeks.
So instead of enjoying the dinner that was provided by my husband’s company (and for the record, a HUGE thank you to B & I Contractors in Ft. Myers, FL for all that they’ve done), I sent the family to my in-law’s house for the day. I had to. I was an emotional wreck and it was sucking the little energy I had after not getting any rest in the week following Round 4, and my ass was thoroughly kicked. Sometimes I get overwhelmed by holidays as it is, but how do you admit that you don’t know if you can keep going? But they needed a day to just forget, to relax. I needed rest, and hadn’t really gotten it in a week. By Sunday I took her birthday shopping, and my husband made our Thanksgiving dinner. And we were truly thankful.
After Rounds 3 & 4 there were many tears, many moments when I spoke aloud the fears and torment, begging to stop putting myself through this. Chemotherapy has been torturous. Even the “good” chemo that I’m taking now feels like something dreamt of by evil madmen. Your body falls apart in terrible ways, and not all at once but in bits and pieces. It spares nothing and in return you hope, with all that there is in your soul, that it will work.
When things were at their darkest emotionally, it was also bleakest financially, till friends on 2 different fronts stepped in. I am so, so grateful for that, for the kindness and generosity of friends, family, and those who we haven’t had the opportunity to know yet. Knowing that we wouldn’t have to worry about how to provide a Christmas that would help take my children’s minds off of the daily stress of life being completely upturned is almost more happiness than I can bear. It is harder to talk about that, about seeing tens of thousands of dollars in bills coming in and trying to not freak out, about getting unsolicited advice that at the wrong moment can range from exasperating to condescending, about being paralyzed with fear and indecision than anything you can imagine. But there is a light at the end of that tunnel. The gap is being bridged, thanks to the amazing people in our lives.
Friends have been the greatest gift. It’s true. I’ll explain more in a bit.
Not everything has been sadness and morose tears. Not by a long shot! Among the highlights were a visit by my amazing cousin, Sarah, who makes me laugh and inspires me. She ran her first marathon for her 40th birthday, and even though it didn’t go quite as planned, it happened. She met MKS and we had Mediterranean at our favorite local place, where the owner gives us hugs and we drink Palestinian coffee. I took Z shopping, and we laughed and joked and enjoyed ourselves. We had cake. My friend KR had Z’s nails done. Another friend, AP, hosted a jewelry social that brought laughter and bagels. CC came to chemo with me, and we talked about how surprising it can be to realize that what you think people see of you and what they really see can be total opposites and how changes in life can alter your perspective. We also laughed about being the youngest people there (not counting medical staff) by about 40 years. I had brunch with BT, and she ate carbs without guilt and we drank way too much coffee. I made Christmas cards for kids stuck in hospitals with KV, AD, CM and friends. KR & I tried on dresses and went to a Christmas party. So much more has happened. Life has continued.
Yesterday, though, 3 of my friends, sorority sisters (go Gamma Phi!) from FSU, showed up at my door dressed as elves, with arms filled with gifts. Carly Rainero, Becky James, and Tracey Saville, along with elves in training GA & R, reminded me of a promise I made to myself and others 21 years ago when I swore lifelong friendship. They brought more than presents, they brought love and laughter and pure joy with them. These women brought all that is good. It turns out that they enlisted many of our Gamma Phi sisters, who took time from their lives (and budgets) for us. In addition to a Christmas fund set up by Jason and Christine Gabauer-also FSU alums, I think I’m seeing a pattern here!-we were able to remove the yolk of stress and uncertainty that was upon us about providing a holiday that wasn’t about cancer, that was instead about happiness and joy. To Kacey Goldstein for the fund that has helped pay our bills when all seemed lost and Kristin Reynolds and Mermaid Salon for a fundraiser next month, how can I ever thank you? Erin Bartow and Gretchen Rudd and the hilarious, wonderful shirts and printed items you made, thank you!
I have struggled with how to talk about the ways that we are being helped without feeling like it’s somehow bragging and begging at the same time, but it isn’t that. If anything, there has never been a moment when I have been more filled with humility and gratitude. There aren’t words for it.
My brothers friends were there for him when he needed it most, too. That’s what friendship is, isn’t it? It’s being there for the parties and the cleanup and the tears and the coffee. It’s a text to say you’re an ass or you’re amazing. Sometimes those are the same things. It’s a Like on Facebook when you see something that makes you smile, seeing the good and the bad and knowing that this person is in your tribe, and you are in theirs. So, I’m going to give a group thank you for everything. Everything.
“And if you threw a party, invited everyone you knew…You would see the biggest gift would be from me, and the card attached would say ‘Thank you for being a friend'”