Cancer-Free Anniversary

Several weeks ago I got a call from my wife informing me about an upcoming solar eclipse. It would be the first time since 1918 that such an event had taken place across the U.S. and she wanted to experience it with my daughter and I. I obliged, but my curiosity was piqued. In our relationship I’ve always been the champion of inconvenient travel plans and the news of oversold hotels and apocalyptic traffic jams seemed a stretch, even for me. Still, she leaned into the planning and it became a mission for our family to find ourselves in the path of totality. It wasn’t until I returned home last week, scattershot and depleted from a string of fly dates, that it occurred to me our travels would include today, the anniversary of one of the strangest moments in my life. A day, when through a feat of scientific muscle, I was transfused with my sister’s bone marrow. It was on this day twelve years ago that I was 115 pounds, bald as the day I was born and ready to be born again. I was a patient then and now they call me a survivor.
Admittedly, this anniversary and the days surrounding it have been fraught with angst and long walks through metaphorical mine fields. From year to year I’ve found myself boarded up emotionally, sweating out benders in rented rooms and never being the wiser that the landmark was looming until it was far too late. Cancer and it’s aftermath has lead my wife and I through so many false starts. You think it’s over and then it’s back in it’s myriad ghost forms, challenging you to stand up to it again and again. You feel shame and anger, forgiveness and grace so many times you wonder if it’s the disease or just your human failings. Most likely it is both, but It’s hard to unwind the two and I’m not sure I ever will. What I do know is that this year feels different. Standing in a field with a group of strangers and the two people who know me best, watching the light change as the earth, sun and moon rotated briefly into perfect alignment, I found myself weeping with gratitude for the gift of my rebirth. Instead of running from myself I was slow dancing with my tribe beneath the most unusual sky.

It is for the caretakers who standby ready to move mountains that I dedicate this birthday. It is for the feeling of powerlessness that persists when the one you love most is so full of sickness that all you can do is hope and wait. It is for the aftermath that no one prepares you for and the beauty that comes from rebuilding your life around the shadow of a sickness retreating. It is for my wife who artfully navigated me into the path of an eclipse on a week when I am so regularly in the path of a steamroller. It is for the fact that so few of us do this alone, yet those who shoulder the burden are so rarely acknowledged for their contribution. If there is any gift I could receive on this most bizarre of birthdays, it would be for those of you who know a patient or a survivor to reach out to their spouses, partners, parents, families, friends and advocates and let them know how much you appreciate their sacrifice. Now that would be a birthday present.

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