Two years ago today was the worst day of my life. It was the day Michelle called me from the parking lot of the hospital, in tears, because the doctor had just told her she had breast cancer. Somehow I had the clarity to insist she sit there and not try to drive home. Breck and I went to get her. It was also the day after I got fired from a job I had been at for only about 50 days. I picked up a contracting gig the following week, but I went from salary plus good corporate health insurance to a contract at the same base pay, plus paying for the good corporate health insurance 100% out of pocket on COBRA. If Charles Dickens had been writing about my life in September 2016 he would have shortened the opening to, "It was the worst of times."
October 2016 saw Michelle endure two lumpectomies, and then saw us say "screw it" and proceed with a planned trip to Springfield MO to visit our daughter in college, coming back the scenic route by spending Halloween in New Orleans. Michelle was in the recovering from surgery before starting radiation phase of cancer treatment, and let's face it, at that point we didn't know if that was the last vacation we'd take together. The initial prognosis for her cancer was a 99% five-year survival rate, but cancer is an asshole. You never take it for granted. You talk a good game at the time about survival rates and treatment options and all that, but the creeping doubt that it might not all work out is there. It might always be there. And I was trying to ramp up on a new job at the time by pretending all was well in my life, because who would hire somebody who is going to be distracted by a wife with cancer? I guess it's a testament to my ability to compartmentalize that nobody at work had a clue. I think I eventually told the boss in January.
Meanwhile my wife's boss, who was on a mission from God to open a daycare, fired her because the cancer treatments were inconvenient. It's not clear if firing Michelle was a directive from God. In hindsight, even though more financial stress was the last thing we needed at the time, it might have been a good thing as Michelle was able to focus on her treatment without trying to work around a one-hour commute to Richmond. So at Christmas 2016 my income was down 50% from the year before, my expenses were way, way, way up as I was paying over $2000 a month to maintain health insurance so Michelle could have cancer treatments (and insulin), and Michelle was unemployed and suffering through radiation treatment for breast cancer.
It was the worst of times indeed. Just 12 months previous we both had jobs we really liked, and for Christmas 2015 we had spent 8 days in Puerto Rico, as sort of one last big family vacation before the kids started to move on with their own lives. We had one kid getting ready to graduate from college, and the other just starting college on a near full ride scholarship. Sitting on the beach in Puerto Rico that week before Christmas our lives looked so bright we needed to wear shades. Which we were actually doing, because we were on a beach in Puerto Rico.
And then 2016 happened.
I'm not going to give cancer any credit for any good that has happened, because #FuckCancer. However, I will say Michelle and I are in a very different, and better place today (both physically because we moved and emotionally) and I don't know if we'd be here without the traumatic events of 2016. Cancer does have a way of getting you to think about what is really important in life. What is really important to me is making memories with Michelle. That's it. I want to be out doing stuff together that will result in great memories, or at least a great story if the experience goes sideways. Anything that gets in the way of that needs to be jettisoned from my life. I think a lot of it already is gone.
"All you need is love. Love is all you need" - John Lennon
So I guess what I'm trying to say with this blog post is don't wait for something traumatic like cancer to stop and look around. Life is not a dress rehearsal. Every day that passes without you living the life you really want is a day you never get back. There are no mulligans on the stuff you could have done with the people you love. Your life is the people you love. I think we all get that, but the message gets overwhelmed by day to day life, probably because corporate America can't sell it to us. If you've got people you love, and people that love you, you've got everything you need for a great life. Don't get distracted by all the other stuff. It isn't important.