Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. This has long been my favorite holiday, and I know that many others share that sentiment. Delicious food! No decorating needed! No shopping for gifts! And did I mention the stuffing? For perhaps the 4th or 5th time in at least 35 years, I am not cooking this year. Instead, we are flying (assuming that we can get out of Boston before the storm gets too bad) to MN to spend a few days with my older daughter and her family. My younger daughter and her family flew out yesterday, so we will be together--just in a different place than usual. Last summer, my older daughter said: "I don't suppose everyone would ever come to my house for Thanksgiving." Over the past days, I have been hoping that she has not been regretting that comment.
These plans and my thoughts are swirling around two themes: the normal passing of the torch that happens in all kinds of ways, and the very bittersweet quality of holidays and other important events after cancer. Both at my recent retreat for women with advanced cancer and during my conversations in my office, I have heard those comments and the pain associated with the "will this be my last one" worries. It is ridiculous and unhelpful to remind anyone that this might be the final Thanksgiving for any of us. Random and unanticipated death is different than living every single day with the powerful knowledge that you will soon be dying.
How well I remember my terror in 1993, after my first breast cancer diagnosis, that I would be soon dead and leaving motherless children who needed me. My second diagnosis in 2005 brought angst, for sure, but my daughters were older, and their need was different. Sitting at the Thanksgiving table in 1993, I was exhausted by treatment and raw with emotion. If I had been able to see into the future that day, I would have been spared so much pain.
Cancer does highlight the moments of our lives. All the cliches about "it's not how many breaths are inyour life, but how much life is in each breath" are completely true. Now we notice and are down on our knees grateful for our blessings. I savor the big ones, the graduations and weddings and births, but I also have learned to savor the small ones. I think of a moment last summer when my husband and I were preparing dinner, looking out the window of our tiny Maine cottage at the water, and listening to his son's and grandson's voices. "It does not get better than this," I said. It does not, and the real blessing is that I knew it. Even the really small delights like changing the bed linens to the winter combination of flannel sheets and flannel-covered duvet and sliding in on the first cold night are treasures.
High on my list of treasures are my relationships with so many of my patients, wonderful women whom I would not have known without this work. I am grateful and blessed.
Yesterday I spoke with an old friend who is also concerned about weather impacting her travel plans for today. Before we said good-bye, she reminded me: "Aren't we so lucky to have wonderful back up plans? If we don't get out, we will still be at home with someone we love." Yes, so lucky indeed.
Susan Lubar, whose writing I love, shares similar thoughts in this essay from the New York Times. She calls all of our time post cancer, especially time we didn't expect to have, as "Gravy Days". I love that expression and plan to incorporate it into my own life. So, please read and enjoy her essay and cherish your Gravy Days. Happy Thanksgiving.