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It was just a little over a year ago when I heard my obstetrician say the words, "I'm so sorry ... it's cancer." I was holding my five-day old baby at the time; and in that moment, I felt like I was in a dream. This couldn't be happening.
This top photo was taken when our little girl was just a little under two weeks old. We had planned a newborn photo shoot to take place a few days after she was born -- when babies are all squishy and sleepy and pliable -- but canceled it once I got my diagnosis. I didn't feel like leaving the house at the time, much less getting my baby all dressed up and being upbeat for the camera. I had more important things to worry about.
Fortunately, our photographer friend gently suggested that I reconsider canceling the shoot. "You won't be able to get back this time in her life," she said. And she was right. Looking back at the photos, I'm so glad we continued with the shoot. The day ended up being a really good day, and we now have some gorgeous photographs to memorialize the way our daughter looked when she was just a couple of weeks old.
At the time I was diagnosed with cancer, I really couldn't see more than a few weeks into the future. My viewpoint became very short-sighted. The future -- including being able to witness the growth and development of my brand-new daughter -- seemed iffy at best. I had no idea how long I was going to be here, and actually felt like somewhat of a fraud to think or talk about milestones down the line. My daughter taking her first steps? Saying her first word? Going to her first day of kindergarten? I couldn't bear to even think about these things because I didn't know if I'd be alive to experience them. It actually hurt to think about all of the things I was potentially going to miss.
One of my closest friends told me shortly after the diagnosis, with my cancer surgery date looming and months of aggressive chemotherapy on tap after that, "This is going to be a really tough year, I'm not going to lie". A year? I honestly couldn't think that far out. The things that I would have to go through and get through in the coming year seemed almost inconceivable. How was I going to get through it? Would I get through it?
It was easy to get overwhelmed -- panicked, even -- thinking about the stepping stones between the "cancer" me and the "well" me. And I did get overwhelmed, and I did get panicked. But one thing that brought be back to the present and grounded me was the old adage about dealing with something huge ... the answer to the question, "How do you eat an elephant?"
One bite at a time.
And that's what I did. I got through cancer treatment, the first year of marriage and the first year of my daughter's life, all one bite at a time.
I've had lots of first anniversaries this month. The anniversary of my daughter's birth, her first birthday. The anniversary of my cancer diagnosis, just a few days later. The anniversary of my cancer surgery, when we learned just how aggressive and wide-spread my cancer was.
But I celebrated many other things this year, maybe even due in part to my cancer, which had the side effect of sharpening my vision and increasing my gratitude and zest for life.
I had the privilege of watching our little girl grow from a tiny premature infant to a laughing and mischievous little copper-headed girl on the verge of walking and talking.
I was able to witness my amazing husband take to fatherhood like a duck to water, and was rendered speechless by his ability to juggle a successful career and new start-up business with caring for a sick bride and a brand-new baby.
I was fortunate enough to become part of an amazing community of survivors and their loved ones, and was both humbled and awestruck by the strength, compassion and generosity of so many everyday heroes.
I formed new friendships that I know will be lifelong and experienced the deepening of existing friendships. My circle grew and tightened and became my foundation.
I learned not only to accept help, but also to ask for it. I forgave others — and myself — for old hurts. I found my voice and learned that I am stronger than I ever dreamed.
I have experienced so much beauty in so many forms. And I got through it.
This time last year the thought of all that was in front of me seemed insurmountable. But I did it. And now when I hear of others with tough things ahead of them -- illness, divorce, job loss, death of a loved one -- I know that they'll get through it too. It will be hard, no doubt about it, but we get through these things. And are likely wiser and stronger for the experience.
It has been a hell of year. But it has also been the best year of my life so far, cancer and all.
Bring on 2013. I'm ready.
Images via Brooke Kelly Photography.