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A caregiver explains how she and her daughter soaked up as much joy as possible during the few hours her daughter felt close to normal after breast cancer treatment.
When my daughter Adrienne was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was living in a one-bedroom walkout basement apartment. Her landlords lived upstairs, and they were amazing people, so when I asked them if it would be possible for us to claim a corner of the backyard outside Adrienne’s door for me to put a couple of chairs and a table for us to sit on while I was living with her during treatment, they said “Of course.” Little did I know how important that decision would become.
Adrienne’s 20 weeks of chemotherapy started on May 29, right at the start of summer. Adrienne lives for the summer months: the clothes, the outdoor patios, floating on a lake. So many of the things she loves to do were not possible during treatment either because she wasn’t feeling up to it or there was the constant fear of being exposed to something that for her would spell disaster. And after she ended up with a fever and a rushed trip to emergency, the choice was made to keep close to home until chemo was done.
Treatment was always in the morning, so we would get up early and organize ourselves for however long we were going to be there. Side effects from the first chemo, “The Red Devil,” were very difficult to manage, which we quickly learned after her first time in the chair. But there would be a few golden hours, when the premedication was still in her system and the chemo hadn’t hit its peak, that she would feel fairly close to normal. And so a ritual was born.
When we got home from the hospital, I would set up the chairs and the table and we would grab a snack tray of whatever appealed at the moment and sit outside for a couple of hours. We would watch the squirrels and birds fighting over territory and sometimes see the neighborhood bunnies come to munch on the patches of green goodness they found in the yard. We would talk about whatever came to mind or laugh about something funny we had seen during the day. If a parcel had come that week, we saved it to open during these interludes in the summer sun and we shared the joy that came with each little gift unwrapped.
As we sat there, I could see the darkness coming, her body start to sag as the side effects began to take hold. She would hang on as long as she could and when it was time, we would head into the house. Without a word I would tuck her into her spot on the couch, and then I would go outside and pack up our little oasis until the next time.
When I think back to that summer, I know that those shining moments with her were a gift to both of us. There isn’t a lot of joy to remember. For the most part those months were full of pain and misery, of me screaming at the top of my lungs inside my head at the unfairness of my child having to go through what she did. My mind is crowded with memories of me desperately trying to do all I could to make things just a little bit easier as Adrienne endured the worst trial of her life. The ritual of grabbing hold of those golden hours with all our might is a little sparkly gem that I can bring out and marvel at when I feel the sadness trying to suck me in. And every time I do, it makes me smile.
If you have joined this club that no one wants to be in, I encourage you to find that one spot where you, too, can create a ritual that in the future will bring you joy. It doesn’t have to make sense to anyone but you. It will give you a moment to look back on when cancer didn’t take over, when you could do something that gave you a brief respite from the experience. It might be reading a book in a cozy corner or parking the car at a scenic spot and staring out the window at the wonders around you. This isn’t a “think positive” moment, because I spend my life as far away from toxic positivity as I can get. It’s a little bit of time out of time. And in the cancer-verse, we can all use that.
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