“A WOMAN IS LIKE A TEA BAG. YOU NEVER KNOW HOW STRONG SHE IS UNTIL SHE GETS IN HOT WATER.”
— ELEANOR ROOSEVELT
July 18, 2019
Since Ian’s passing, I’ve found myself revisiting the times when we wondered about our futures together. How would this whole cancer thing play out? With a terminal diagnosis it’s easy to ask yourself why?, but harder — more profound, more unsettling — to ask when? Every doctor’s visit, scan and new experimental treatment leaves you hoping that you might be that lucky one who defeats the odds. I mean, why not? The numbers don’t mean everything, right? Everything is uncertain.
I wrote the following passage on November 30, 2018, one month before the New Year, and probably during some of the last times when Ian was really “Ian”. I had no idea what the future held — what would happen on January 1, 2019, when Ian would wake up paralyzed from the waste down from a tumor pressing on his spine, or that he would die just four months later…
November 30, 2018
Ian just had a reaction to his Remicade infusion, causing him sudden nausea and a swat team of nurses to descend upon the scene. As he sits here vomiting into a bag, closing his eyes and taking deep breaths — fighting to regain control of his body — I realize that the year ahead of us is simply about survival.
With the New Year approaching, we set goals for personal achievements or self-improvements for the year ahead. My dreams of potentially owning a fitness studio, teaching to sold-out classes, of cooking more, and his, of climbing the corporate ladder — maybe getting back into hospitality, preventative medicine or even some type of finance job — all of these ambitions become trivial with a life-threatening cancer diagnosis. It’s incredible how quickly these goals transition to one simple MO — just LIVE another year.
When I look ahead into 2019, there are so many scenarios in how our life could play out. In my ideal setting, I see a cancer-free Ian — back at work, teaching Izzy how to surf and play soccer, and watching Theo learn to walk and talk. We’ve moved to Hawaii, or better yet, somewhere more exotic, like Australia, and are soaking up life with a renewed appreciation for each day.
Another outlook shows the four of us in a setting very similar to where we are now — taking one day at a time as we continue this relentless fight. We fully embrace the times when Ian feels good. And, we support each other through the bad when he is feeling too ill to get out of bed. We are in limbo — no forward thinking. No forward moving. Just holding onto now. Just surviving.
In the last scenario, I see a family of three. I don’t play out this scene too often for obvious reasons, but it’s human nature to explore the unknown. Sometimes I even feel guilty when I think about a life without Ian. When I do, I see a hurting widow desperately trying to rebuild her life without her husband, without her children’s father, without her best friend. She’s lost. She’s overwhelmed. She’s scared. But, she’s strong. She knows that she will pick up the pieces and eventually be ok. She will fight. She will survive. She will eventually get back to chasing those big dreams and lofty goals that no longer seem silly — but possible.
Several people have told me that they can’t imagine what I’m going through. And it’s true — they probably can’t! Nor, could I imagine what it would be like to lose my husband before it actually happened. But, as Eleanor eloquently puts it, you never really know how strong you are until you are in hot water. You just deal with it. You fight. You survive. Just like Ian did, until he no longer had a choice.
But, I have a choice. and it’s Ian’s warrior spirit — his strength, his fight — that continues to motivate me and give me the resiliency to move forward.
We all have that choice. And even though we can’t imagine how we would react in a time of crisis, the human spirit spirit is surprisingly strong.
Yet, building strength from within is an exercise. We strengthen our spirit and build resiliency by opening our eyes and realizing all of the amazing things that we have to live for. By living with gratitude for our healthy bodies; for the love from the friends and family who surround us; for the warmth of the sunshine on our skin; and for the ability to dream big and aspire for something greater, we build inner strength to overcome hardship. We struggle, we fight, we move forward, and slowly, our goals and dreams that seemed trivial in the face of adversity, become more and more possible.
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