July 5, 2017: Something More Than Heroic

A year ago today, we began a third battle against an aggressive, relentless Glioblastoma. We had phone calls to make, chemotherapy to procure, and appointments to schedule.

I made G and H breakfast and packed their camp bags. I made Matt breakfast and discussed the logistics of the third battle we were about to begin against an aggressive, relentless Glioblastoma. Then, the bus arrived and the kids went to camp. Matt left for work.

For the first time since we heard the news that Matt had a third tumor, that the cancer had crossed to the right side of his brain, I was alone. There was no one to take care of, no one to prop up, no one to be strong for.

And I collapsed. I was going to write that I let myself collapse, but that wouldn’t be quite true. I collapsed because I was not strong enough to hold myself together anymore. I collapsed because whatever had been holding me up gave way.

Not a literal collapse, though, because when I fall apart, I need to move. I went for a run. My running app reminded me that this run was my fastest 6.5 miles to date. I did not listen to an audiobook while I ran (which is my habit) because I didn’t want to think. I loaded a Spotify playlist on random and I remember turning up the volume until I couldn’t hear my own thoughts. I remember pushing myself to run faster than my mind could churn out words. I remember the burn in my lungs and the way that burn released the sob that I’d been swallowing down for two days. I remember the tears streaming down my face and thinking how Matt—the real Matt—would have had a field day teasing me about crying on the street.

I remember all of that and I remember knowing when the kids came home from camp, when Matt came home from work, they would never know I’d collapsed for a few hours. I knew I needed this moment, this collapse and this run, and then I could start the fight.

When I returned home from the run, physically exhausted and mentally wrung out, I started my part of our battle. I called. I scheduled. I Googled. And I scoured the Internet for a study about GBM I hadn’t already read a hundred times. I combed through the message boards on the brain cancer forums desperate to find a survivor story that matched ours.

A friend texted me to ask how I was doing and I responded with this: It’s easier around Matt bc I have to be there for him or with the kids bc I’m busy. Today I’m just falling apart everywhere.

But in hindsight, I think I was wrong. I think it was easier to be around Matt because he never collapsed. He was so sure he’d be fine that I couldn’t help but believe it. Matt was always right. (Or, if he wasn’t, he’d argue his point long enough that it was easier to tell him he was right and move on.)

What did Matt do a year ago today when I collapsed? He went to work. He sent emails and crafted strategical plans. He talked finance and contracts. He confirmed a family vacation we wanted to take in November. And he called Hackensack to ask for the doctor’s opinion on the latest MRI and treatment recommendation. Matt did not collapse. His health, and life, and legacy were at risk, and he never collapsed.

Or maybe he did, and he didn’t tell me, just like I never told him. Maybe we both tried so hard to be strong for the other that we only allowed ourselves to collapse in private. But I’m not sure. Matt’s strength to face each day, his determination to fight each battle without giving in to the weight of his diagnosis, was something more than heroic.

Another memory stands out from this personal record-breaking run. I remember feeling like I was betraying Matt with every tear I’d shed. Because how could I be this upset, even though I truly believed with all my heart that he would be okay? Why was I collapsing as if we’d lost, when I had infused every glimmer of hope from those three rainbows into my soul?

I don’t know the answer to that. And my instinct is to once again throw my hands in the air and say brain cancer. Every moment is a contradiction. Hope and despair can coexist. But then I remember the moments after the run, calming my labored breathing, squaring my shoulders, and preparing for the battle ahead. And I think maybe the answer to the question I posed is this: Sometimes it’s okay to collapse. Falling apart doesn’t signify a lack of hope. At least, I don’t think so. I think falling apart is sometimes simply a way to rebuild hope, from the bottom up, to make it stronger than it was before.

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