Back to the Future

You were right about the end

It didn’t make a difference

And everything I can remember

I remember wrong

How can anybody know how they got to be this way?

You must have known I’d do this someday

Break my arms around the one I love and be forgiven by the time my lover comes

Break my arms around my love.

The National, “Daughters of the Soho Riots”

About a year or so before I started this blog, I began journaling. I journaled as a way to express myself and to help work through what I would have then probably called a mid-life crisis. I was both frustrated and stagnated- especially at work. I had the experience and the motivation to succeed. But I didn’t have the respect or support that I needed to do it.

Unable to control things in that environment, I hoped to at least make sense of it internally with words. During one of these entries, I decided to try one of those writing exercises designed to give perspective. The goal is to write about how you see yourself 5 years in the future, as a way to highlight that whatever you are currently struggling with will someday be in the past. Every struggle is temporary and can be resolved with time. Or so I thought.

So of course this past week, my online journal system decided to send me one of those “on this day” reminders of this particular post that I wrote two years ago, envisioning myself 5 years in the future (or I guess what would now be three years from today).

I won’t lie. Just seeing the title and remembering the subject matter of the entry was cruel. Statistically, I am far more likely to not be alive than to still be here three years from now. And now here you are sending me my prior aspirations?

In preparing to read it, I braced myself for sadness, and found it. But I also discovered a few other things along the way. So here we go…

Five years from now, I will be on the verge of 45. I will have more grey in my hair. I will be most likely coloring it auburn. Let me go grey when I am 50 🙂

Of course I didn’t know then that chemo would interlude and cause my hair to first thin out and then attempt to grow back in grey. But I guess that I shouldn’t complain too much on this front. I was “supposed” to have all or most my hair all fall out on this most recent line of chemo and after 7 rounds it didn’t! Just more thinning.

Now, with my two months off of chemo for surgery, it is attempting to fill back in with short little hairs growing in everywhere. They shouldn’t get far, as the chemicals will be returning next week. However; if upon return to chemo, my hair remains mostly in tact, I may take the leap and color it auburn anyway. Just because I have been surgically forced full-swing into early menopause doesn’t mean that I have to go grey. Perhaps not going bald is the one positive thing I can hold onto and make the best of…

Five years from now, I will be a (insert name of promotion title here). I will feel confident and comfortable with my work, and with my work/life balance. My husband and I will be making the illusory (insert anticipated annual income here) per year. In my work life, I will feel free to be myself. Intelligent, witty, me.

I wanted that deserved promotion. The money was just a bonus. Even more than that, though, I wanted to find fulfilment in the work that I was doing. I didn’t just want to lead a project and team. I wanted to be able to be my authentic self while doing it. And finally to have the peace of mind to leave it behind when I left for the day.

I think that if this hadn’t happened I may have gotten there. But none of that matters any more, I guess. A terminal illness put all of my worry and stress over work into perspective very quickly. I wish that I didn’t have to take something so drastic for that to happen. I still want to contribute though. This blog has turned into a small way that I can do that, even if it wasn’t what I set out to do when I started it. If I am blessed with the gift of more time, I hope that I still continue to find ways to do this. Just no longer in the context of a formal work environment.

In my personal life, hopefully, I will have finished the journal of my life. If not that, perhaps I will have a blog. Or both? I will be unafraid to show people my authentic self. Or to have my voice heard.

Talk about predictions that were accelerated by my diagnosis! A written narrative/memoir about my life/and or a blog was always something that I’ve wanted to do, but had a million excuses not to. Being told that I have limited time forced me into beginning this blog as public therapy. In addition to the blog, I’m still considering writing a more formal memoir. The challenge is that I don’t want the writing to take over for the living that I want to do in my last months to years here. Hopefully moving forward I can figure out that balance.

I will still be meditating every day. I really hope that that will be true in 5 years, because it has given me a “religion” of sorts. I have needed a spiritual side for a very long time. I need that quiet, I need that prayer. Hopefully, I will have made progress in my meditation to cut out all of the noise. Hopefully, my daily quiet will have continue to bled out into my daily life.

Two years ago, I thought that meditation was going to be my path towards gaining the spiritual side that I’ve always been missing. I was so very wrong. Through the shock of everything that has happened to me, what happened instead was that I quit meditating pretty much altogether.

Meditation was an artificial construct that I hoped would give me clarity. Learning that my life span would be a few decades shorter than anticipated turned out to be clarity enough.

I now find that “spirituality” comes to me every day; not in some sacred quiet space, but rather in the thick of life itself. Despite not adhering to any formal religion, I believe that I actually see God now on a pretty regular basis. And that God? It’s not a person at all. It’s just love. It’s the feeling of an embrace. It’s in snuggles and hugs. It’s in having meaningful conversations with those that are close to me. It’s in laughter and play. God is in the joy and the sadness. And God is in anything honest and true.

In Five years, I want to love myself more. And I want to be more compassionate toward others. Not just understanding. I want to be compassionate. I want to have a glow from the inside and I want to share that glow with others.

Do I love myself now? Yes, I think that mostly I do. I am more accepting of my flaws. I am fully aware that I am not and have never been perfect. My “failings” have usually come in the form of self-protection in the face of fear. But I give myself credit for at least trying to be aware of myself and to continuously improve. And this drive is of course moving now faster than ever.

Compassion and understanding has been more of a mixed bag. I have grown in some ways, but stalled in others. I definitely have an appreciation for the fact that we all start at different places and have had different challenges. But I also have to admit that in other ways I have lost some compassion. Mostly toward those that do not seek to improve or solve their problems. Or those that give up and let the little things sink them.

I realize that this comes, in large part, not just from my background, but also from my own injured internal locus. I don’t get a hypothetical tomorrow where I can fix my diagnosis and move on to the second half of my life. Since I have been barred from “solving” my own diagnosis, I can’t help but resent those who can but still don’t. This may not be the “right” thing to feel, but it’s just where I am right now.

In Five years, if politics bears out, we will still be living here, but our home will be remodeled. Our youngest will be twelve and we might start to get nice things. Abe and I will have gone to Hawaii.

Before I got sick, we took the leap and remodeled the bathroom, but now the kitchen remodel is on the permanent back burner. This basically just comes down to decisions that we have made as to what we so and don’t want to spend our money on during the time I have left.

Due to term life insurance policies we both purchased when we were younger and healthier, my family will (thankfully) be financially taken care of after I am gone. This also gives me some freedom to withdraw from my own accrued retirement account, when needed. I saved it for a retirement in old age that I now no longer get. This is it.

We took the trip to Hawaii, no regrets. For Christmas? We are going to Florida and staying at a family resort. I can’t wait to see them play, make friends and to have fun as a family. Experiences are the “stuff” of what life is all about. Experiences are what I want to spend my money on.

In Five years, my Audrey will 17 and a Junior in high school. We will be making plans for college. She will be confident, and clever and she will have a way with words. I will have shown her that it is worth fighting for what she believes in. She will have picked at least one (most likely two) areas that she is really shining in: Art, Writing, Journalism, Poetry, Speech/Debate, Acting or Theatre Crew, Destination Imagination, and/or Junior Optimist/volunteering/helping others.

My oldest daughter traded Destination Imagination for Speech and Debate this year and has really flourished. She is 14 now, and I can see that she is already confident, and already has a way with words. She also has a wealth of creativity and artistic talent. How lucky would I be as a Mom to get the chance to see her continue to grow and flourish throughout high school!

This one is already taller than I am, and of the three kids is the most like me. She has no problem standing up for what she believes, and as she grows up, she will have to learn that that often comes with a cost. I don’t get to see her as an adult. But I do get to see the remarkable young lady that she is right now. And that is something.

In Five years, my Lucy will be 15 and she will be a force to be reckoned with. She will be dancing and maybe acting, and making others laugh. She will be a freshman in high school.

In less than two weeks, my Lucy will turn 12 and she is also, of course, already a force to be reckoned with. She has a smile and a voice that can light up any room that she enters, and a talent for making anyone feel included. I was lucky enough to see her begin middle school this year, and she is wading through the new academic challenges that come along with it. She knows the material, but lacks the confidence to work through it independently. I would love to be able to see her become as comfortable and confident in herself academically as she has always been with herself in other areas.

In Five years, my Jack will 13, and filled with teenage awkwardness. Hopefully, I will still be able to get a hug out of him every now and then. Hopefully he will get a chance to show the world how smart and quirky he is underneath all of the other “stuff”. He will be in 7th grade and hopefully far above that level in Math and Science. He will hopefully find teachers who bring out the best in him and have encouraged him to try out things Science Olympiad, and Math Competitions.

At nine and a half, Jack has progressed so much but still struggles in some areas. He has the unfortunate combination of being gifted with ADHD and it can be so hard for teachers to see the smart and quirky beneath the impulse control issues and nervous habits like chewing up his shirt. He’s in fourth grade now, but I worry for him in a future middle school environment that seems more focused on punishing kids than growing them. As a result, we have seriously considered moving him into a charter school with more of a STEM focus during these years. I just want him to be able to be able to finally use and be seen more for his strengths than for his weaknesses. I worry a lot about leaving him too soon and not being there to help remind him how much I love him. No matter how old he gets I’m still a sucker for those hugs.

Yes, there is much to be grateful for. My husband has a big heart. My children are always making me laugh and amazing me. I am blessed.

I knew two years ago how lucky I was with my husband and kids. Never in my wildest dreams, did I imagine when I wrote these “five year” predictions that I would not be here to see them. Now more than ever, I notice how often people just take those things for granted. Perhaps I will beat the odds and in three years from now I will still be here. But I know that most likely I will not, so I am left with making peace with the fact that all of that is outside of my control.

I expected there to be all pain in reading what I had written. But I found alongside it a lot of gratitude. Gratitude for the ways that I have grown since my diagnoses, and gratitude for all of the things that I have right now. On a personal and spiritual level, my growth in many areas has been forced to accelerate. And on a parental/familial level, I am still able to find love for the things I have now comingled with the sadness of having to miss out on the future.

I am still able to witness the amazing people my children are now; and am afforded the confidence to know that my husband will continue to guide them when I am gone in the same way that we both would have done with me still here. That’s not something that everyone else in my position can say. And so it all comes back to love, now and forever, while I am able to still be here and beyond.

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