If I have learned anything over the last eleven months it is that life is FULL of surprises. Granted, not all of them are the kind you hope for. Certainly being diagnosed with an incurable cancer is not the type of surprise one is anticipating will pop up. But there have been some incredible things that have happened since my diagnosis that have been wonderfully unexpected. And I LOVE surprises.
So imagine my shock and surprise when, on Friday night, with the incredible and poignant words of Rachel Platten’s Fight Song playing in the background, my eyes washed over a room filled with (almost) everyone I know and love. My amazing husband gathered 130 of our closest friends, family, neighbors and loved ones to celebrate ME. These same people who, when life gave us the biggest surprise of all, have shown me the most extraordinary support and encouragement.
I don’t think that each of us realizes the impact that we can have on other people. I have been told over the last year that I am an “inspiration”. Those are kind words to hear but I truly feel I am no different than anyone else. I am a wife, a mom, a daughter and daughter-in-law. I am a sister, a friend, a co-worker. And now I am someone fighting cancer. I don’t feel I have done anything exceptional, anything that any one of us wouldn’t have done when faced with the same news I received. As I’ve said before, giving up is simply NOT. AN. OPTION. Life can be really sucky in a million different ways – and we each have a choice about how we will face those circumstances. I suppose crawling up in a ball and giving up is an option I could have considered. I just never did.
And I didn’t because there are just too many reasons for me not to. How can you throw in the towel when you have so much to fight for? My husband has been a rock in more ways than I can ever adequately describe….although I have certainly shared some of the highlights (lowlights?) in this blog. Telling me I had cancer? Check! Telling me my father died unexpectedly? Check! Shaving my head? Oh yeah….check! Much more than either of us bargained for when we took those vows.
Based on these and a million other ways, I am grateful for how loved and special he makes me feel every day. I’ve always known I am lucky. But even he was able to surprise me…both literally and figuratively. Four months ago he nearly single-handedly began his covert mission, putting the wheels into motion that would end in one of the most memorable nights of my life. Beyond our wedding and the birth of our children, I genuinely can’t think of a night, an event, that has meant more to me. It wasn’t my birthday, yet I was the star of the night – all thanks to him. And after 10 years of marriage, your partner can still surprise you! Sure the party was a surprise – and that was great. But he also stunned me with all the big and small details that went into making the night so unforgettable. He meticulously made arrangements he knew would make the night extra special for me, including the song I came into – which has been an anthem of sorts since a dear friend first shared it with me with shortly after my diagnosis. He had the DJ ready to play our wedding song, which as I have shared in one of my previous blogs has tremendous meaning to me. He coordinated with my medical team to ensure I could indulge in a cocktail or two without any impact to my treatment. My husband isn’t one for big public speeches but there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when he finally took the stage to share what this experience has been like for HIM. I’ve had this blog as a forum to share my many ups and downs these last few months; finally he had a chance to share what has been on his mind.
I have never had a surprise party before; I even knew about my bridal shower. I was completely unprepared for what it would feel like to walk into a room (especially thinking you were going to dinner with friends) and trying to process why this collection of faces were together in one place. Friends from grammar school, college and various stages of work life were mixing and mingling with our neighbors and the parents of our children’s friends (who I am happy to say are now OUR friends too). Friendships ranging in duration from less than a year to those that have been nurtured for almost literally a lifetime. The single thread was me – and it is an overwhelming feeling. A friend said to me the next day that you don’t often see this type of celebration when someone is actually still here to appreciate it. But I am! I am here, I am in REMISSION and feeling great – and this night was a way to recognize and appreciate our journey and the remarkable people who have made it possible for us to endure all that life has thrown our way.
I can’t say that I am surprised by the love, support and encouragement we have received over the last year. I have always known that we had the BEST village of people around us. You always imagine – assume I’m sure – that when you need your friends and family, they will be there. You just never think you’re actually going to do it – that you will have to call their bluff and will need to ask for unconditional, no-questions-asked support. For my husband, that came when he dropped his 42-year-old wife off at the hospital and did not know when – IF – I would come home. He had to rely, without hesitation, on our community and our loved ones to help care for our children, keep them distracted and happy, while many doctors tried to figure out what on earth was wrong with me. They helped him sort out homework assignments, buy Halloween costumes and pretty much whatever else needed to get to done to keep life as normal as possible for a 7, 5 and 4-year-old whose Mommy went to the ER and just didn’t come home for two weeks.
So the truth is that this night wasn’t really just about me after all – it was about celebrating and thanking everyone who has stood by our side over the past year. It was a time for each of us to stop and reflect on how, despite life throwing you one hell of a curve ball, if you try hard enough you can find ways to love more deeply, experience gratitude more profoundly and discover a resilience you never, ever knew you had. And THAT is exactly the type of surprise I am grateful for.