giddy gratitude and grim determination

Yesterday was Zoe’s 10th birthday. Despite all of the wrangling I had tried, I ended up with an oncologist appointment in the morning. We had discovered I had cancer the first time on Mark’s birthday and learned about the metastatic disease on Zoe’s 4th birthday. We tend to avoid linking oncology with birthdays.

However, yesterday it was good that they were together. We served Zoe breakfast in bed and then hustled off to see the doctor. We knew that my tumor marker counts were slightly up. My fluid production is also up. So we were a bit on edge over what the next course of action would be.

And after a good visit with Dr. Campbell, we are staying the course. We both feel good about this decision. The side effects of the Halaven (neuropathy, fatigue) are manageable. I’m doing OK.

It was after we had gone through all of this medical stuff, that I got personal and told Dr. Campbell that it was the anniversary of my diagnosis six years ago and also our daughter’s birthday. I thanked him for all he had done to keep me around.

To my surprise, he said, “It’s not me, it’s you. It’s your determination. If I could bottle that and give it to other patients, I would.” He went on to talk about making a normal life for our family and how important that was. It turned into a really wonderful and meaningful conversation. A huge shot in the arm. I was giddy from the appointment and overwhelmed with gratitude for Zoe’s 10th birthday.

In the Meyer family we have a phrase that I think came from my Grandma: “grim determination.” It has become a bit of a joke: i.e “you think you’re going to fix that with just grim determination?” Mark has noted my grim determination in less than flattering times.

What I wish I had said to Dr. Campbell is that it’s not my determination. Sure, I’m the one who has to swing her legs over the side of the bed and get up every morning, but it’s Mark who already has a hot breakfast cooked, the dog fed, the dishwasher emptied, and the music playing. It’s my parents who are maintaing the “normal” of the house–doing laundry, cleaning, running errands, etc. It’s my brother who calls every day to check in and drops off meals on a moment’s notice. My sister who visits me in this bleak winter bringing me stories and laughter. When I’m running low on optimism, it’s my mother who spoon feeds it to me like soup, sharing from her genetically generous store.

It’s my administrators who tell me to come in only when I feel well enough. My colleagues who fill in every crack I’ve left behind. The friends who visit and notice something to be done and just do it. (Who paid the parking ticket that I noticed on the van this winter, by the way?!). It is Mark’s family who offer help time and again.

So I guess if it’s not Dr. Campbell and it’s not me, then it’s you. It is you who have given out the grim determination. You who have urged me on to the amazing gift that is Zoe’s tenth birthday.

Emily reminded me a few months back that when I was first diagnosed with metastatic disease I said I just wanted to live until Zoe was in double digits. My reasoning was that she’d have natural memories of me. Well, as usual, I’ll be asking God for even more. We got Zoe’s ears pierced yesterday and I thought about how I want to see it all–the proms, the graduations. I don’t just want 10 anymore. I want 10 times 10.

Fortunately, the host of people who are praying for me, bolstering me, and caring for me seem to want it too. I wouldn’t have an ounce of grim determination without you. I am giddy with gratitude.

wisdom in the faculty lounge

Considering how seldom I was at school this winter and how infrequently any time I had there included a visit to the teacher’s lounge, it is amazing that I came away in the last four months with not one but two life-altering comments from the same colleague.

It was in November when my med switching was driving me crazy and Birdie was making me even crazier. I had been praying for “the right dog at the right time” since Daisy died and had been convinced when we got Birdie that the prayer had been answered. However, a week into her tasmanian devil puppyhood, I was convinced we had made a big mistake. I was saying something like this around the lunch table when Roberta said, off-handed and laughing, “good thing you’re not doing it for you, huh?”

Oh. Right. Zoe. Every night Zoe was praying gratitude for Birdie. Even with the pin-sharp puppy teeth, Zoe would play with Birdie every chance she had. Birdie was exactly the right dog at the right time. Maybe not for me, but without a doubt for Zoe. In time, she has become exactly the right dog for all three of us.

The second time Roberta set me back on my heels was more recently. I had been feeling rather sorry for myself. Still with the drain (today is day 88, but who’s counting?), still with the bald head. Roberta came up to me a few weeks back, put her hand on my arm and said, “I have been praying for you…how is your breathing?!”

Oh. Right. Breathing. That’s what this was all about. I couldn’t climb stairs without a rest at the top. Couldn’t read aloud without a break. Would bring in groceries and need a rest after each bag. My breathing. It took me a minute. “My breathing is fine,” I say. “Wow, what an answer to prayer,” says Roberta. I walk the dog at a good clip. I go from the basement up to Zoe’s room and sit down ready to read aloud. I bring in bag after bag of groceries (and I even shopped for them myself–unlike this winter when Mom and Dad fetched every little thing). I can breathe.

I love my job for many reasons. Working with people like Roberta is certainly one of them.