Piecing it together, Hope-FULL
I’m going to be real-deal honest with y’all. Over the past week or so, I’ve been sad. Like, really, really sad. As in- my stomach is hurting for no apparent reason other than my sadness- sad. The sad I’ve been feeling reminds me of the way I feel before I head to MD Anderson for my yearly testing. Every July, I return back to my ground zero to undergo all the poking and prodding and scanning and examining. This July will mark 10 years since my second bone marrow transplant. 10 years of being cancer-free. 10 years of my cancer playing by the rules. 10 years of living in remission.
I remember the drive to Houston last summer. Tom was enjoying peanuts he had purchased at the gas station while I was just trying to focus on the road ahead. Mid-way through his snack, my husband turned to me and asked if I felt less scared since I’d been in remission for nine years – which was the longest remission I’d ever experienced by a long shot. I looked up at Tom as he popped peanuts into his mouth and realized that he thought he already knew the answer. Who wouldn’t be reassured by the seemingly encouraging length of time? Well, I guess, me.
With each year of remission, my fear grows proportionately larger. With each year of being “in the clear”, to me, that is one year closer to the end. Each year of remission is me living one more year on my precious borrowed time and each year lived brings me closer to my time being up, all done, no more, bye-bye.
I know I’m not ready to say good-bye. I never want my life to be turned upside down again, and I know that each year of testing holds the all too real possibility of exposing my cancer and that means everything could change. I know too well how quickly life can be taken and shaken and totally mixed up into a puzzle I wouldn’t even recognize.
My lowest point with The Cancer was during my second bone marrow transplant. Nurse Jan brought in one of my final chemo bags and I told her I couldn’t do it. I knew my body was too weak to go on and my soul had just about given up. Tom and Nurse Jan reminded me of all my reasons for living, for fighting for the chance to live, so I said okay and the chemo was hung. Even with the drugs running through my system, I remember the incredible feeling of sadness. And of despair. And of pain.
So then why did I agree to stay in the fight for my life? The obvious answer is Tom or the kids or my family, but I think I was lower than the noble fight for my family. I know now the only reason I fought was because of hope. I was scared and sick and sad- so, so sad. But that moment was also the time I was filled with the greatest amount of hope- because it was all I had left.
Each July, before I make my pilgrimage to MD Anderson to look for My Cancer, I do puzzles. I open my puzzle cabinet drawer and pull out the puzzle that best fits my mood. It is usually one of the puzzles with the darker colors and the sharper lines. I sit down at the table, I open the box, and I begin finding all the straight edges. After I sort and complete the frame, I begin to place the middle pieces where they, according to the picture on the box lid, belong. After a while, I am able to lock a few neighboring pieces together and then I lock a few more. And I usually don’t stop until I am finished.
At the beginning of our staying at home because of this virus, my brother texted and asked how we were doing. I told him that we were good and that I was just keeping busy with the kids and my puzzles. He replied with an, “Ahh. You’ve got your security blanket.” I found that response so odd because, until he sent that text, I hadn’t realized that my pattern was to pull out a puzzle every time I was feeling high levels of anxiety. My brother had seen this pattern in his little sister long before I had put the pieces of my emotional connection to puzzles together.
During quarantine, I have completed seven puzzles. I have tackled my first 2,000-piece puzzle and then did it again. After finishing each puzzle, instead of feeling a sense of accomplishment, I felt sad that my puzzle was complete. I missed the sense of purpose I felt while working on my puzzles. I loved locking the pieces together and seeing the new picture slowly emerging on our kitchen table. My puzzles felt, grounding. They felt, safe. They felt, meaningful.
And that’s what I have realized these puzzles are for me. During these stressful and uncertain times, we are all clinging to hope. We hope our families and loved ones stay healthy. We hope we are financially stable. We hope those who are fighting this virus are able to pull through. We hope health care workers stay safe. We hope no more jobs are lost. We hope the country will come together and stop the political back and forth. We hope our kids will one day return to school. We hope to be able to eat at a restaurant. We hope to be able to hug our neighbor.
The future is unclear. All of our lives have been taken and shaken and have fallen into a pile of unfamiliar puzzle pieces. Only, this time, we don’t have the puzzle box top to serve as our guide to putting our lives back together. None of us know what the new normal will look like and that is crazy stressful. We feel unsteady and directionless and that is what has made me very, very sad.
For me living in remission and now living through this virus, hope has been my puzzle box guide. It has not been my path to happiness (I leave that to tequila), but hope has given me meaning and it has given me strength and it has given me the determination to keep working at this puzzle we call life.
Right now, the pieces of our lives may not be locking into place and we don’t know what the final picture of our future world will look like, but we also know that right now, we all have hope. We just have to be willing to trust it.
I also know that, in spite of this uncertainty, I will be ok. WE will be okay. Life will be- okay. We just have to keep holding on and working the puzzle.
In love and hope,