I met Jennifer Penley when I interviewed her for a forthcoming article in Living with Cancer magazine, where I am a columnist. Diagnosed with Stage IIIb colon cancer in October, Jennifer has written about parenting with cancer at her blog, Jennifer’s Journal. This is one of my favorite posts. -Jen Singer
I am not sure I am ready for normal.
I’m almost at the halfway point now of chemo, and it will feel strange to set about the business of counting down to the end. It seems not that long ago that I sat in the kitchen, sick from my treatment and sickened by the thought of eleven more rounds still to come.
In one fell swoop my life as I knew it changed. Soon, I found myself in a protective cocoon of doctors and nurses and tests and ever-vigilant eyes. If anything else were to go wrong, someone would surely catch it.
Temporarily, momentarily, I feel safe, ensconced behind a high wall and no way, no how is cancer going to get through that wall undetected. But now I am able to more clearly see that at some point that wall will come down. At some point I will have to leave the safety of this cocoon. I don’t want to leave. I am scared to leave. I am scared that in a split second, when no one is looking, the cancer will return. And then what?
I swallow hard against the lump that rises in my throat with every ache, pain or random thought, certain of their prescience as to my future. I retreat to a shadowy place in my mind and try desperately to conjure the determination and the optimism necessary to see around those dark corners.
And then come the moments when I feel myself staring down the barrel of this disease with the fierce, instinctive wrath only a mother can summon in the face of a threat to her children. Because in the end, that is what this all comes down to for me:
I need to survive for the sake of my children.
I simply can’t allow this to be the defining moment of their young lives.
“Surviving,” as Marieke said so profoundly, makes it sound like we’re all just hanging on by the skin of our teeth. And what good is that? What good is waking to yet another day if you’re not going to take it for the gift that it is?
No, it’s not at all about surviving. It’s about living. Really living, like there’s no tomorrow. Isn’t it said that living well is the best revenge? That seems to apply so aptly here. Screw you, Cancer, I’m living, so take that!” And perhaps living is a key to, well, living.
So how do you go about the business of living? How do you shake that fear of doom that threatens to hold you back? Maybe you don’t. Or, rather, maybe you shouldn’t. Maybe that fear nipping at your heels is what you need to keep moving forward, to keep from slipping into complacency and mere existence.
Maybe that fear is what gives you the courage to take the chances and do the things that alight your soul; maybe after you’ve dodged a metaphorical bullet you come to realize that many of your other inhibitions and self-imposed limitations are just child’s play. Maybe, just maybe, by hanging on to a little piece of that fear, you find the fortitude to live as if you were dying.
Jennifer Penley is a 39-year old wife and mother of two young boys, ages 5 and 3 ½ . Jennifer was diagnosed with Stage IIIb colon cancer in October, 2011; she is currently undergoing chemotherapy and looking forward to the completion of her treatments this Spring. Jennifer will be participating in her first American Cancer Society Relay For Life in June, 2012 on her team MOMs Against Cancer, when she will be walking to raise awareness for colon and breast cancer. Jennifer has been chronicling her physical and emotional experience with cancer on her personal blog, www.jennifers-journal.com and on Facebook at Jennifer’s Journal.