“I took my friend to her chemo appointment the other day and from the moment we strode in, to the moment we almost got locked in revolving door when we left, we were in tears. And I don’t mean little, drippy tears. I mean big, fat, mascara stained tears. Yes, the kind where you ask the person sitting next to you if your make-up is running down your face. Which by the way, it was. People were staring at us. Some pointed. Some whispered as they watched. The ‘Indian Prince’ Doctor nervously smiled. The entire chemo ward waited to see what was going to happen next as they watched us doubled over trying to regain our composure.
Because, we weren’t crying in pain. Oh no. No, friends. We were laughing so hard we were crying. You know, the kind of laughter where you can’t catch your breath. The kind where you don’t even know why you’re laughing so hard after a while, but you can’t stop. The kind where one look sets off a contagious, rolling roar of hysterics. The kind where you’re reaching for Kleenex to wipe your eyes, and the kind that makes your belly hurt. The kind of laughter where the patient herself forgets she is tethered from a chemo machine to a port in her chest and tries to get up and walk away like it’s just another day in the park. The kind of giggling that makes the patient forget for minutes at a time that she’s sitting there being treated for cancer.
Trust me, I know you never really forget. I know it’s always the first thing on your mind in the morning and the last thing as you fall asleep. I know how much it consumes you. I know how many prayers you have said, and how many promises you have made if you can just be healed. I know there is really nothing that can fix the diagnosis. I know there is nothing that will ease the fear. I know there is nothing that is going to answer your questions or settle your soul. I know how scary this is.
And, I know this because it wasn’t too long ago that I sat in the same brown, cushy chairs with my sweet husband waiting for his own chemo treatments after his diagnosis with pancreatic cancer. I remember what the hesitancy felt like walking in with him. I remember how he gave his name to the receptionist to check in. James, he would say. Not Chad, which is what everybody called him. No, James. His given name. One that he never used unless it was business, something serious, or chemo. I remember how heavy the air in the waiting room felt and how I could practically feel his heartbeat racing in my hand. I remember the shuffle back into the chemo room. The prep. The nurses buzzing in and out asking him if he needed anything. I remember how he refused to have a port put in because, as a police officer, he didn’t want it to get in the way of his bullet proof vest. I remember how bruised his forearm was from the IV’s they had to insert each and every time and how I would overhear the nurses talking about how they hoped his veins wouldn’t collapse. I remember watching the chemo machine drip. I remember watching him sleep. I remember how he joked with the staff when he was up for it, and how he was silent when he wasn’t. I remember, oh yes, I remember, and for so long I wished I could forget.
And then one day, several months after I lost that man of mine, I was looking through old pictures and came across one where I was trying to teach him how to take a selfie. And the first thing I noticed was his grin. And then the mischievous look in his eyes. Then his big hand right in front of the lens. And, when I saw that, I giggled. Because he was doing that on purpose. He was giving me a hard time about taking the picture in the first place, so he was going to make it hilariously impossible to get a good shot. As I was dissecting it on the day I found it, I couldn’t help but smile at the memory. The reason we were there sucked. The location was stale. The atmosphere was heavy. Trust me, we didn’t want to be there. But on that day, we were making the best of it. We weren’t rushed to go to work, or stressed about having to pick up kids, or busy trying to get something done. No. On that day, we were taking advantage of time together, no matter where we were. As much as we wanted to deny it, we knew, on the day he was diagnosed, that the lifetime we promised each other was about to be cut painfully short. And neither of us wanted to waste any time not loving or laughing. Neither of us wanted to look back and wish we had done that more.
So, when my friend was diagnosed with breast cancer, she asked me if I would go with her to some of her doctor’s appointments and subsequent chemo visits. There was no question I was going. There was no hesitation in my body. I did not need time to decide. I was going. Whatever it took, I was going with her. And while I was resolute in that promise, I was worried about how it would feel walking back into the same cancer center where my husband was treated at the end of his fight. I won’t lie to you. My stomach was in knots. My heart shook. My brain was on fire. My memories came alive. My eyes darted back and forth between the corners of the walls, and out of the windows to the familiar view I had already memorized years before. And as I fought back the tears, I flashed back to the day we took that picture. That day when we decided that focusing on laughing was more important than focusing on dying.
In was in that instant that I decided to take that lesson and share it with my friend as she started her battle. I had no idea how she would react when I told her we were going to take some Snap-Chat filtered pictures, and I’m thankful she was receptive to it. She already has this built-in, amazing, upbeat, positive and optimistic attitude, so when we added in something that filled the time and distracted her ever so slightly, something magical happened.
Laughter. Lots and lots of laughter.
I know it seems practically taboo to be laughing during something so serious, but she wasn’t going to have it any other way, so, you know – go big or go home. So, we’re going big and we’re dragging everybody else with us. And, when we sat in the lobby and recorded our video, I purposely looked around and took an inventory. Yes, people were staring. People were pointing. But you know, what? They were all smiling. You couldn’t help it. People who were suffering. People who had lost their hair. People who didn’t want to be there. People who were worrying. Those people were smiling. Even if it was three minutes in their horrible day, it was three minutes well lived.
Chad and I had a choice that day. Anastasia and I have a choice today. And on both days, we are choosing not to let the monsters consume us. We are choosing not to let the sadness overwhelm us. We are choosing not to sit quietly and let fear take over. We are choosing not to die while we are still living. We are choosing to wink and laugh and sing and be silly. And above all, we are choosing to live while the living is good. Because no matter how bad things can get, living is still really, really good.
I hope that no matter what road you are on right now, or what pain you might be in, that you remember how to live. That you remember how to love. That you remember how to sing and dance and smile and be silly. And, I really hope, yes, I really hope, that you remember how to laugh and give yourself permission to do it. You deserve it, my sweet friends. You really do.
We are always hearing about how life is too short to be anything but happy. But you know what, sometimes life is too long. Yes, sometimes, life is just too long to be miserable. So, don’t be.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Diana Register of Meridian, Idaho. Her book “Grief Life” is available in print and kindle. You can find more of her books here, and her podcast here. Connect with Diana on her author Facebook page, and Instagram.
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