Matt and I didn’t text much on June 13, 2017. He sent me a message in the morning to let me know that the closing date for the sale of his company was nearly set, and then again later in the afternoon to let me know he was going to use the elliptical at home for twenty minutes. Nothing more.
The pictures and emails from a year ago today tell a bigger story—I have a few dozen photos of G at her Daisy moving up ceremony, and handful of emails about H’s upcoming pre-school graduation. But still not particularly relevant to our year in hope.
When I sat down to write today’s post, I assumed I’d see an anxious text to a friend or a screenshot of another article I’d read or something to remind me that Matt and I had turned our thoughts to the next tremendous milestone on the horizon. I didn’t find anything like that. And when I look back on the day and sift through my imperfect memory, I don’t remember being overly worried about the uncertainty in the future, that July MRI.
Why? Denial and naivety are possible explanations that seem to be as ubiquitous as hope in these posts. But I think our lack of concern was grounded in something more practical. (For once?!)
On May 2nd, I wrote about Matt’s first post-polio-infusion MRI. The doctor discussed the tumor, but, in my mind, the severe swelling causing the rapid mental deterioration dominated the doctor’s appointment. That swelling overwhelmed our thoughts and shifted our focus. Rather than fighting the tumor, we were fighting the swelling. Then, when Avastin tamed the swelling, we fought for support from a local doctor. Then, when we found support, we fought for records and scans and reports to be mailed. For six weeks after the May 2nd MRI, the tumor had become secondary to all these other battles.
And on June 13, 2017, it seemed as if we’d won the battle against the swelling; we’d won the battle for Avastin; and we’d certainly won the battle to draw a local doctor to our team. (so…#winning?!) All of that makes me think, possibly, the reason we weren’t nervous about the next MRI was because, for better or worse, we’d lumped the battle against the cancer into all of our triumphs.
After all, as of the May 2nd MRI, the polio virus was acting as promised. It had begun to shrink the tumor. It had activated (over activated?) Matt’s immune system. Very practically, we had every reason to believe that the polio virus was working to destroy the tumor the way it had for those first two patients featured on 60 Minutes, that the treatment was fighting the cancer the way it was supposed to while Matt went about his daily business.
Or, maybe we weren’t overly worried because simply focusing on the small victories kept us from spinning too far into the future and into that dangerous, anxiety-ridden world of what if.
In post-hope, there are battles and triumphs, too. And though the stakes aren’t quite as high (the enemy is a misbehaving paper shredder rather than an aggressive cancer) the uncertainty in the future is just as daunting and it’s somehow harder to ignore the milestones on the horizon (Father’s Day, 10-year wedding anniversary, to name a few). The anxiety around these dates at times swallows my thoughts and I lose countless minutes worrying myself into circles.
Maybe that’s okay in post-hope. Maybe feelings need to be felt and denial isn’t a permanent solution to cancer or grief. But I don’t think it’s wrong to focus on the victories, whether big (taming brain swelling) or small (fixing the paper shredder). I think maybe Matt and I were onto something a year ago today when we focused on the little wins and didn’t let those unknowns stop us from living in the moment. We made it look easy last year. I see this year that it’s not that easy. But it’s very much worth the effort.