Has cancer changed your perspective on life? What do you value most? What do you most desire?
Tori Tomalia is a two-time cancer survivor currently living with stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer since May of 2013. Her first cancer experience was childhood osteogenic sarcoma, for which she received chemotherapy and curative surgery, and had been cancer-free for over 20 years prior to the lung cancer diagnosis. Along with cancer, Tori juggles life as a mom of 3 small children, a wife, a theatre artist, writer and lung cancer awareness advocate.
"Can you think what the Mirror of Erised shows us all?" Harry shook his head.
"Let me explain. The happiest man on earth would be able to use the Mirror of Erised like a normal mirror, that is, he would look into it and see himself exactly as he is.... It shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts. You, who have never known your family, see them standing around you."
- Dumbledore, from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
I am one of the lucky ones who, despite a diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer and the terrible prognosis that goes along with it, is doing remarkably very well on a targeted medication. Yes, I deal with side effects, like my ongoing stomach issues ("Mommy has a sore tummy") and I sleep much more than the average mom of three small children. Compared to where I could be, I am doing fabulously well. So well, in fact, that cancer often takes a back seat for our family. It is always there, of course, lurking in the background, but often we can mostly ignore it.
Sometimes, however, its impact sneaks up on me in the least likely of places. Take, for example, when I am reading "Harry Potter" to my six-year-old son.
"However, this mirror will give us neither knowledge or truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible.... It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that."
"Mama," he interrupts me. "Mama, I'd be like Harry."
"… Like Harry?" I asked.
"If you died, the one thing I would want most of all is to see you again," he said.
This simple remark left me frozen in my tracks. I was left speechless. I was trying to process his words with the knowledge that, in all likelihood, this is indeed something that he will face.
How do I prepare my children for the future?
So we talked about Dumbledore's sage advice, that if you get lost in what you wish could be you will end up missing out on the life that you get to live. Harry's parents are gone, and no amount of gazing into that mirror will bring them back. His parents would want him to relish the life he has, and find the joy that is his to discover.
It is impossible to ignore how profoundly my illness has impacted our family. But, as I remind myself over and over (and over and over), none of us are promised tomorrow. All we can control are the choices we make today, and the life that we lead from moment to moment.
"It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that."
If I looked into the Mirror of Erised, I think I would see my husband and I growing old together, watching our children grow up and become the remarkable adults that I know they will be.
Has cancer changed you? Do you live your life differently now? And if you looked into the mirror of Erised, what would you see?
Tori Tomalia is many things: a mom, a wife, a theatre artist, a mediocre cook, a Buffy fan, a stinky cheese aficionado. She is also, unfortunately, a repeat visitor to Cancerland. Stay tuned for her continued adventures.
Blog: "A Lil Lytnin' Strikes Lung Cancer" lil-lytnin.blogspot.com