Rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer.
Sometime around Thanksgiving, I might have disappeared. It felt that way, anyway. Life as I knew it was over. My days were filled with medical appointments, stress and worry, and that heaviness that came with being unwell. I spent the previous five years thumbing my nose at metastatic breast cancer. I lived my life. I loved my people. I felt pretty good most days, considering.
Then there was a summertime cough that didn’t go away. A scary scan. And more symptoms. My cancer was back. With a vengeance. I lost my voice. I lost my appetite. I lost weight. And I lost me.
Somewhere between the day a young technician in burgundy scrubs draped a radiation mask over my face and this past weekend when I threw up every hour – every single hour – from my third hard round of chemo; I ceased to exist.
I didn’t recognize myself. Not just in the mirror, but not at all. I couldn’t do any of the things I used to do. I could barely get up. I was too tired to read. Too uninspired to write. Too sick to clean or organize. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t go anywhere. I couldn’t see my friends. I couldn’t talk to them anyway. I had nothing to say. Nothing to contribute to the conversation. The days were long and hard and all the same.
Was this living? Was all this suffering worth it? I pushed those questions to the back of my mind. I prayed, but I didn’t dare cry. If I started, I wouldn’t stop.
Yesterday was a better day and I was so very grateful. God’s Mercy. I wasn’t confined to bed or couch. In fact, I refused to go near either. I sat at the kitchen counter, in the living room, at the morning room table. Anywhere else. I didn’t want to turn on the television, my sad nightly companion for the last three months. I didn’t even like watching television. Yesterday, I turned on music instead. Music that took me to a different time and place. Happier times. I talked to my mom. I looked at photos and watched videos with my daughter. I helped my son with his homework. I discussed home renovations with my husband. I felt among the living, contributing to my family’s life, if even in a small way. It had been a while.
While we hung out, my daughter mentioned how much she missed driving around in the Jeep and listening to music. It was something we did. The two of us. It often took us longer than expected to pick up a few things at the store because we drove around the back roads listening to our favorite songs, volume way up and windows down. Sometimes we stopped by the park to watch the sunset. Some of my favorite moments. It wasn’t hard to figure out that what my daughter was saying was she missed the way things used to be. My daughter missed me. I did too. I missed the simple things – not the trips and the big celebrations, but I missed our every day. I missed my life.
I missed my morning walks. Park picnics with the kids. Sunday dinners. Lunch dates with Mom. Family movie nights. Baking. Writing. Late night snack runs with the kids. Evenings on the deck. All the small things that made up our days before cancer consumed me again.
I thought about those things late at night, when I was alone. I grieved them, and I held onto them. I prayed so hard to enjoy them again, if only for a little while.
I wanted my life back. Even if things would never be the same again, I prayed for some of it. Any of it. I wanted to feel better. I wanted to have energy. I wanted to do the things I used to do and be able to enjoy them. I was a positive person. I was a faithful person. But this was difficult. I wanted to find joy again, without having to look so hard for it.
That evening, my son and I were hanging out in the kitchen when he asked me the most wonderful question.
“Mom, can you make chocolate chip cookies tomorrow?”
Chocolate chip cookies? Oh my, YES! A thousand times YES, I thought to myself.
“Sure, Bud,” I said. “What made you think of that?”
“We just haven’t had them in a while,” he said.
Something about his answer broke my heart.
He was right. It had been a while. I agreed. It was time.
I used to bake cookies all the time. Or cakes. Or cupcakes. I poured my love into them for my family, my friends, my neighbors. I loved to bake and share sweet treats with others. It was one of those things that made me who I was. And I hadn’t been that person in a long time. I wasn’t able. The idea of baking chocolate chip cookies, my specialty, sparked something inside of me. Woke me up, maybe. A familiar bite of something you used to have all the time, but forgot how delicious it was.
After my son went upstairs, I worried if I would feel up to it the next day. I didn’t make a promise I couldn’t keep. I was relieved when I woke up the next morning, and I wasn’t violently ill. Chemo was full of awful surprises and colossal disappointments. I had come to expect them. Many days I hoped for a good day and didn’t get one. Today was not a perfect day, but it was a better day. And I was grateful.
I smiled to myself as I set out butter and eggs to come to room temperature early in the morning in anticipation of doing something I loved. I felt like I was meeting a friend later I hadn’t seen in a long time. Giddy with excitement. By mid-morning, I was exhausted and shaky, jittery and out of breath. I prayed for it to pass as I rested on the couch. I held back tears.
Please, not another disappointment.
By early afternoon, I felt a little better. God’s Mercy. I would have waited until the kids were finished with school so they could help, but I learned to take advantage when I felt okay, not to waste the gift of feeling good. It was often fleeting. Like life. I knew it would wear me out so I asked my mom to help. Of course, she was ready and willing. Always.
I started with the butter, opening each stick and dumping it into the mixing bowl. I carefully measured and packed the dark brown sugar. Muscle memory. The steps were natural, instinctual, the recipe still lived inside my head.
“I am doing this,” I said to Mom as I cracked the eggs, one at a time.
She knew that meant I wanted to do it myself, but she stayed close. She collected the used measuring cups and handed me the ingredients, saving me any steps she could. Once the batter was mixed, I had to lie down for a little while. My legs were shaky. I was light headed, exhausted, and my back hurt. It was frustrating, being so weak.
But that was okay. I only needed some time. I was determined to finish the cookies, no matter how long it took. Mom pulled the cookie sheets and covered them with parchment paper. She cleaned the mixer, wiped the counter, washed the dishes. When I was able, I sat at the counter. I could no longer stand.
One by one, I scooped the batter onto the cookie sheets, in perfect lines – 3 across and 4 down, just like always. Mom put the cookies in the oven and set the timer for 10 minutes. I scooped the rest of the batter while she moved the cookie sheets in and out of the oven.
The smell of chocolate and a mother’s love brought my son downstairs, anxious for a warm cookie. I looked at the fourteen-year-old man child in front of me. He was almost as tall as his dad. He was strong and smart and growing up so fast. He was only five when I made chocolate chip cookies for him and his sister the day I first found out I had cancer. We had all been through so much since that day. I still saw my little boy standing before me, and I wanted to make him those chocolate chip cookies today just as much as I did back then.
I had done it a thousand and one times before. I did it without thinking. A quick batch in the morning or late at night. I took it for granted. Back then, I didn’t have to rest between mixing and baking. I didn’t need Mom to help clean. Maybe it looked a little different today, but I did it. I mixed the ingredients. I scooped the batter.
I baked chocolate chip cookies.
And I was so happy. God’s Mercy. Something so simple. Isn’t that always the case? It wasn’t the big things. I didn’t need to walk five miles (although I plan to do that again). I didn’t need to clean my whole house from top to bottom. I didn’t need to write another book. I needed to find the parts of me I lost along the way. And I promised myself I was going to keep looking.
I already found a little bit of peace and a whole lot of hope in a batch of chocolate chip cookies. And tomorrow was a new day.