A couple of things I am learning about myself: I really like non-fiction. Sometimes I feel like I should read more fiction because everyone else is doing it. But really, I am happy learning about other people's real experiences (both current and past). Also, a few years ago I would have been bummed about the fact that my amount of reading has dropped off so much in recent years. But again, I think I'm ok with that. Sure, I wish I was reading more, but during this season of my life, there are nights I just want to zone out watching Netflix.
Anyways, back to the actual reading. I just finished up A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles by Mary Elizabeth Williams. The book is about Mary Elizabeth's personal fight against Stage 4 melanoma and it is filled with humor and sadness.
I do not have any personal experience with cancer, nor has anyone close to be experienced this dreadful disease, but I think Mary Elizabeth's writing is relatable because hardship touches us all. Everyone will experience difficult things in one form or another at some point in their lifetime. I have come to believe that these hard things are what make us human and give us empathy to understand one another.
In one of her descriptions, Mary Elizabeth describes sitting with her husband and feeling the heaviness of what was happening. "We don't talk a lot, we just share the quiet space of defeat."
This reminded me so much of our response the day we learned of my miscarriage. Daniel and I had a post-doctor lunch date planned. It was supposed to be celebratory. Instead we ate our meal in silence and then walked down to the river and sat in quiet defeat. We didn't know what the future held, but we had that moment. Just us. Facing the unknown together.
Another passage that spoke to me:
But in addition to keeping the faith, you know what else you do when you have Stage 4 cancer? You have to do your laundry. You have to buy groceries. You have to do your job. You have to make your kids brush their teeth. You have to clean up and do it all over again the next day that you are just trying to stay around for. The world doesn't grind to a haul because your life might.
When Daniel was laid off from his job, we felt this type of a burden. We had to keep living life, even though no one else had this big heavy thing hanging over them. Our lives came to a halt, while our friends and co-workers lives kept spinning. No it wasn't cancer but we felt a version of these same feelings.
Sometimes when I consider what people can live with and keep going, it shocks me. It's like life after I had a baby and realized that the world was full of exhausted women with lacerated perinea and clogged milk ducts who were managing to successfully keep small, helpless human beings alive. Now I know it is also full of people who go to the doctor – have shattering experiences and then show up with their kids at parties...
Before I experienced hardship, I too had no knowledge that people were walking around dealing with hard things. Things like parents divorcing, sickness in the family, a lump in my breast at age 22 (which was thankfully nothing), blood clots that sent me to the hospital for a week, a spouse losing their job and being unemployed for a year, moving for work, having kids, having a miscarriage, the difficulties of marriage, the difficulties of parenting. Until you walk through those experiences you have no idea that there are others like you. Maybe their difficulties are not always obvious, but you discover that you are not alone in this thing called life.
That is what I took away from Mary Elizabeth's book. She was lucky that she circumstances aligned that cured her of her cancer. That is not always the case. I think her book shows the power of finding people who are on similar journeys. Our journeys are all different, but the ability to support and encourage one another is one of the amazing things about being human.
I think that when people watch someone going through something like this and say. "I don't know how they do it," they don't understand that the answer is "Because they didn't have a choice."
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