Healthy Living

Life After Cancer: Finding Meaning In The Mundane

I need to slowly add the important things back into my life.
Jaime & Kada 2011
Jaime & Kada 2011

The novelty of cancer has started to wear off. The excitement (both good and bad) surrounding my diagnosis has begun to dissipate and I’m left feeling like a normal, albeit a little beat up, 36-year-old mother to a 7-month-old boy and partner to a 44-year-old man.

In my day-to-day there seem to be less adjectives and more nouns. Less clarity, time, and articulation to feeling, and more facts to life. For Mike and me, the who-does-what around the house and who’s-working-more-this-week and who-last-changed-Sam and how-many-more-fucking-diapers-can-we-stuff into-that-steel-bin before-one-of-us-takes-out-the-trash resentments have begun. I can assume this is somewhat normal behavior for couples with young children since we are all sleep deprived, learning a new way of selfless giving and are a little grumpy about both of those things.

One of my best friends is a successful business woman in Manhattan and a mother to two smart and adorable children. She is tall and thin like a runway model and is intimidatingly beautiful. She wears designer everything, travels to Milan and Japan for work and has hustled herself into a tax bracket that I will never see for myself. Last Saturday morning, her (equally as handsome, very charming, kind, sweet and loving) husband pulled her long, skinny legs out from the foot of the bed, told her that it was time to get up, and then threw a roll of paper towels at her head. I literally laughed out loud when I read her text. See, THIS is life.

“How do I take my 'cancer lessons' and apply them to my 'normal' life as a mother”

How do we approach the daily grind that isn’t so glamorous and seems a little monotonous but still live a life full of meaning and purpose? Can there be “interesting” in the boring? How do I take my “cancer lessons” and apply them to my “normal” life as a mother who spends her days juggling work, playing with building blocks, and force-feeding her baby sweet potatoes even though he (still) wants nothing to do with real food?

I talked to my friend Gretchen about this, and she too has been trying to answer a similar question: “Now what?” For her, she’s focused on learning to be content. Not complacent, but content. To soak up what IS, and to enjoy IT. She really got my wheels turning when she said,

Jaime, I think about this all the time: When I visited you when you were at Brigham for a week, you were so so skinny, like cancer skinny, and you were wearing six layers of socks and you looked terrible -- the worst I had ever seen you. You were laying in your hospital bed with your johnnie and your blankets and you said that you could only focus on the present. That you couldn’t think about the past or the future because both were too scary. And so as you were sipping water from one of those sad Styrofoam cups, you said, ‘Here I am right now, sitting in this hospital bed, talking to you, drinking water from this cup, and I am ok. It’s not so bad.

If I can find that contentment and, dare I say, “enjoyment” during actual suffering, then where is it when I’m losing my patience with Mike, sequencing a yoga class to teach in two hours and unwrapping my shoelace that I left on the floor from Sam’s neck?

The answer is in that run-on sentence: It’s me. I’m doing too much at one time. It’s not that I’ve taken on more responsibility than I can handle -- it’s how I’m managing myself. What was once a boastful bullet point on my resume, my fantastic (!) ability to multitask has left me feeling less fulfilled, more stressed out, and a little distant. Now that I’m back in this “normal” life, there are rarely times when I’m truly focused on one thing. Even as I write this, my phone is lighting up with text messages and Instagram tags, I can faintly hear Andy Cohen on Bravo TV and my thoughts keep wandering back to who I’m going to cover the host shift on Sunday night at the restaurant I manage.

I used to thrive on action and a fast paced life. And now I realize I need to take it down a notch and enjoy “the NOW.” That crossing six things off of my to-do list at one time isn’t what it's all about. There is no race. There is no competition. It’s just me. When I was sick, it was simple: breathe in, breathe out. I need to keep that head space and slowly add the important things back into my life. One. By. One.

So how will I approach the daily grind of my not-so-glamorous and less-exciting life knowing that maybe the secret is in slowing down, in being present and prioritizing which “now” comes first? And where can I find “interesting in the boring” outside of listening to funny “married with kids” stories that have to do with airborne paper towel rolls? I kept running these questions through my head last night as I took my black lab, Kada, outside to do her business. And then I stopped. I quit thinking about all of it and suddenly noticed there were peepers peeping their “peep peep peeps” near the lake. Like really loudly. How had I missed that sound and their presence? I felt the (finally!) warm breeze on my face and I walked step in step with my 12.5-year-old puppy who has loved me unconditionally since the day we laid eyes on each other. The companion whom I haven’t paid much attention to at all since cancer and Sam came along. And why? Because I’ve been too busy? Because that’s just “what happens,” to dogs when you have a baby? Please, Jaime (exaggerated eye roll). I didn’t check my phone when Mike’s text popped up to wish me goodnight. I didn’t rush her around the yard to get back into the house to wash dirty bottles before bed. I just walked next to her. And it felt really, really good.