My Thirty-Second Year

this-lady-is-32-todayToday is my thirty-second birthday, quite honestly, throughout most of the week, I forgot. Birthdays have never been a big deal in my family, we celebrate with dinner and a couple of gifts, but otherwise it’s a typical day with some flair thrown in.

This year, I am happy to spend time at home, and with my family. Having a birthday so close to the holiday season has been a balancing act between wonderful and crappy my entire life. As a kid, it’s not great – you’re usually going back to school, it’s cold outside, family smashes your birthday and the holidays together into one celebration, and people just forget. As an adult, you are usually heading back into the real world after some time off, but the proximity to the new year is very beneficial. As I’ve been reflecting on what 2016 has been, and who I was in it, I get to start over in the new year and also in my thirty-second year. The symmetry is not lost on me.

When I was younger one of my favorite things to do was put in old home movies and watch the smaller version of myself, and my cousins running around during holiday celebrations. One video in particular is my favorite: I was one, and it was the celebration for all of the early birthdays of the year – myself, my mom, aunt, and uncle. I am in a classic 80’s peasant top strapped in my highchair with some cake in front of me. The chaos of my older cousins running around me as the adults share stories, laugh, play with the kids, and eat some cake. Seeing my family from this angle was always so entertaining to me. This is the first piece of footage on this tape, it progresses through the years – the kids get bigger, the adults get older, new children are added [HELLO, Laura!], sometimes the adults change, but the dynamic is still the same. Family celebrating each other.

It’s no surprise that I prefer to spend my birthday relaxed and with family, it’s been the standard for my entire life, and probably well before I was born. No need for a big party, or anything fancy. Gimme some good food, laughs, maybe some cake, and time to hang out with the people I love!

Happy Emily’s Birthday to you!

The New Normal: Five Years Later

EJFP ChaptersYesterday was five years since Justin’s original diagnosis of lymphoma. Five years. 1,825 days. It seems crazy to think about what has happened since August 10, 2011. I remember that day, vividly. We woke up from our sixth overnight in the hospital. Justin was two days post-op for his mysterious artery entrapment syndrome. My parents had cut their vacation short to come home to help me take care of things while Justin was in the hospital. I was focused on getting home. We were happy because we knew it was Justin’s release date, but irritable through the hours of waiting to walk out the door.

The medical assistant finally arrived, he was one of our favorites. There was one final scan Justin needed to do before they literally pushed him out the door. I wish I could remember his name. As he was getting Justin ready to take downstairs for his final test a young doctor walked in. He was the hematologist that had been referred to us after they discovered the enlarged lymph node in Justin’s abdomen. A biopsy was just a precaution.

“Justin is thin and I’m sure his lymph node just LOOKS bigger on a scan.”

I honestly hadn’t even thought about the biopsy results, no one made it seem like a big deal. Our focus was his leg and rehabilitation toward walking again. But here he was, this doctor I can’t describe as anything other than an awkward hipster looking man that looked no older than I was at the time. I was 27.

“So I’ve spoken with the lab and it looks like we have an “unofficial” diagnosis of non-hodgkin’s follicular lymphoma. It’s not confirmed yet, but that’s what it looks like. This is what we consider a watch and wait situation so my office will call you in October to set up an appointment.”

He handed me a stack of papers that looked like they had been printed from the internet. I looked down and the third word on the page was “cancer”.

“Do you have any questions?”

I was dumbfounded. Frozen. This can’t be real life. I looked up at him from my little make-shift bed and smiled, with panic in my voice I said “um…I….well…no, I guess not”

“Okay, well if you think of anything let me know. Good luck with physical therapy.”

And he was gone. Never to be seen or heard from again.

The medical assistant continued to help Justin transition to the wheelchair to take him to his final test. Realizing he was still in the room, I looked up at him and took in the look of shock on his face. He was just as shocked as I was. We made eye contact for a moment and he snapped out of it. This man that I can’t remember the name of witnessed one of the biggest moments of our lives. The moment that everything changed and I can’t remember his name. I think of him every once and awhile. I wonder how he is and if he thinks about that moment too.

That was the day that I learned to hold in my emotions and control my tears. To think through things and hold off on exploding until I was in an appropriate space. It was the first time I understood what people meant when they said they felt “numb”. It’s a very accurate description. I was numb, tackling what I could, one day at a time.

August 10, 2011 was a lifetime ago. I am a completely different person than I was when I woke up that morning. I have watched Justin go through two additional occurrences of lymphoma since then. Five treatment plans. Two anaphylactic reactions. Countless blood tests and CT scans. Hours of of sitting in waiting rooms. Days, Weeks, Months of being numb in order to make it through the day. Thawing in the comfort of people that are trusted and allow you to melt just long enough to relax and move forward. One day at a time.

Somewhere along the process of getting through Justin’s original diagnosis, I started this blog. It took some time, but eventually I wrote The Last Normal Day. The story of everything leading up to our first night in the hospital. I was so exhausted that I never really finished the story. I wrote The Last Normal Day Part Two but I was so sick of telling the story at that point that I couldn’t form the words. Five years later, I found a way to form the words. I thawed a little bit this morning writing this. It felt good and was much needed.

Thank you for letting me share my story.