“Inoperable brain tumor…”
Sick. Bile rose in my throat while tears welled up and battled to be let out. My hand wanted to reach out to my brother who was standing beside me, crying… our dad had requested an ASAP FaceTime so he could tell us the findings of that morning’s MRI.
But I knew. I still know.
Holding a hand, hugging someone, sitting in silence for more than a few minutes with my thoughts… It will open the gates to the kind of crying that I’m afraid I won’t be able to come back from for a long time.
Some time in my teens, I learned a trick to keep myself from crying - a glass of cold water. Holding it in your hand helps give your skin something else to focus on, and when the tears threaten to be let loose, take a few swallows of the water. If it’s cold enough, it’ll do the trick. At least it has for me, without fail, for years. I’m sure there’s some kind of science behind it, but I’m too tired to read about it.
Tomorrow, we leave for the Twin Cities for care that may be dad’s only chance… I’m leaving my two boys in the care of my husband’s parents. We don’t know what to expect, so I’m preparing my mind to see my dad in a hospital gown, looking helpless. I’m preparing to be surrounded by attendings and specialists and residents who wear the same uniform and expressions that my husband has been trained to wear… they’ll all likely use that same tone: kind, informative, disconnected.
I’m scared that I won’t have enough of whatever it takes to experience this without breaking.
…I’m scared that this will be the first time a cold glass of water won’t help me.
Typically, I have a lot to say with my posts. This time, all I have is an introduction to Cait… A woman. A mama. A wife. A beautiful human who has spent years in the shadows of herself (literally and figuratively). Cait is over 160 pounds lighter than she used to be, and dammit if I’m not stoked out of my mind to have been the one to collaborate with her on this epic milestone.
I’ll let Cait’s images and and words (I asked her to write a love letter to herself) do the rest of the talking…
“I see you, when I look at past pictures - the woman who didn’t know how to love herself. The woman who didn’t know how truly fucking beautiful she was.
It’s a shame, to look back at those memories and think of all the time that we wasted. The time when we could have been friends and one with each other. But I understand now that this time was needed. That this was part of the plan and that you needed to go through your journey in order to find yourself.
It was so beautiful to watch you spin your cocoon - all that hard work you put forth, all those times when you thought you would never make it; that this was a waste of your time. But still, something inside of you kept you moving forward. There was hope.
And damn, look at you now.
I hope you know that I think you’re brave as fuck and strong as hell. The way you give love, the way you feel love.
I hope you know that true beauty is not in the way your body stares back at you in the mirror but that it’s when you face a challenge head on and don’t back down or when you’re sitting there with your friend, talking about life, love, stress and setbacks.
I hope you know that your greatest gift is in the way you laugh, cry and spread gratitude. And that you are worthy to live and design your life as you choose.
I hope you know that you’re loved as much as you love.
I know that you know.”
For the sake of every partner, every child standing in the shadows while their spouse or parent gets through medical school and/or residency…
I don’t ask for sympathy. I simply ask for breathing room. For the chance to feel anything other than the glowing gratitude that society seems to expect of us.
There are times when we don’t know how to deal with the stress of raising our babies on our own. Or navigating a new city with no friends or family, or hell… even any knowledge of where to buy cereal. Moving states away from family, friends, everything we knew.
Residency made this life feel heavier, but also more empowering.
I feel stronger. Bolder. More brave. Less full of fearful anticipation and more full of bring on all the shit shows, buddy, because I’ve got this.
Except for today.
Today, I was working in the garden that was recently bulldozed by a heavy rain, and taking breaks in the 90-degree weather to play “lazer tag” with my boys with squirt guns. I forgot this morning that he (my husband) was not going to be home for a day and a half, even though we only live four blocks from the hospital where he works.
This morning, I forgot that he had a call shift because when he said “goodbye, have a nice day, I love you”, he hugged me for much longer than normal.
I assumed it was because he was feeling the weight of the fact that we are now down to one more night. One more night of waking up as a team that pulls little Henry into bed with us when he wakes in the middle of the night. One more night of “which one do you want to get to sleep tonight”.
Today, in the middle of the epic water gun battle, he called to let me know he had three minutes to get home and pack his overnight bag for his call shift. I scrambled to find what he would need, then just before he drove away, I frantically called to our oldest son James (little Henry was napping - a true miracle). I worried that James would be upset about missing his chance at an extra Papa hug.
Fortunately, James is at an age where Papa hugs and Digimon episodes weigh out pretty evenly. He was hidden away safely in the basement play room when my husband drove off.
This “see you tomorrow morning” hurt more than usual. Just yesterday, I was at the annual picnic that is held for a huge collection of people who work in coordination with my husband’s surgical residency program. I recall speaking to the partners of this year’s intern class about my experiences over the last year, and how I felt like a pro. I felt/feel stronger and more capable and ready to take on more challenges that come with being the spouse of a general surgery resident…
But that was last night. Today, I don’t feel as strong. Today, as I hugged my love and kissed him, and breathed in his semi-sterile smell (still lingering on his scrubs after his short 2-minute commute to our home), I had a difficult time remembering to breathe and not cry. I’m sad.
I’m sad. And uncertain. And feeling maybe a little bit scared.
Two months without him. Our boys will be without him for two months. His hugs. His dirty socks on the floor that drive me nuts and his nightly ritual of having a bowl of cereal after dinner, or FOR dinner. Because you know… life. And in his case, more often than he’s willing to tell me because I’m an empath, death.
I guess through all this, my friends, is that more often than not, those around you are going through more than they’re willing to say. Please be patient and kind.
Since you were a little girl. Before you had your first boyfriend. I’ve been there, watching you grow (in a totally non creepy way, before you call me on that comment).
I’ve been in love with your brother since he and I were practically babies ourselves. You loathed me at times… Understandably. But eventually was our goal. Eventually we grew. All of us. And now.
We are sisters.
Never more have I felt this than the moment I sat in your recovery room with you, helping you learn about teaching your sweet little girl how to latch correctly, while coaching you to breathe and reminding you to not stress - you were both learning these new roles at the same time.
Helping you understand self advocacy. Being with you while you asked questions and waited for the okay to go home…
Your first seconds at home with her. I could feel your stress, knew your physical pain.
I don’t have words other than thank you. Thank you so much, for letting me be there to witness that.
Welcome to our tribe.
You’re doing better than you think you are.