I've just dropped my kid off at school. It's raining outside and my jacket is making tiny puddles on the floor by my boots. As so often happens my eyes have wandered to the blackboard on the wall under the window. As I wait for the barista to scoop my tea into the mesh bag, (it's the San Francisco black blend I can't get enough of) I read the blackboard. I've read it at least a hundred times before.
Against the black the words are scrawled in white looping cursive. The effect is pretty. I wonder how many people simply read the first line -- "I believe that everything happens for a reason" -- accepting the beauty at the surface and move on.
I can't help myself: I always read it to the end, like rubbernecking a crash scene on the side of the freeway that I know I really don't want to see, because I know what's there. It is never a surprise. The same is true of this quote. As I read it never fails: I get a flutter of foreboding in my stomach and the hairs on the back of my neck tingle. I find the words chilling. But also refreshingly honest.
It is the most satisfying answer I've ever found to the eternal howling question of life: why?!
Shit happens. Period.
Don't get me wrong, I don't think only terrible, random things happen, but I'm also not one to seek the silver lining in a cancer diagnosis. I've seen too many families devastated by the illness. I've lost my own father, grandmother, and even my dog recently to cancer. And my young daughter is still haunted by my own harrowing chemo year.
But, "sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together..." Maybe this is how it is that I'm sitting here, typing these words on the rainy eve of the launch of a digital magazine for young breast cancer survivors. (OMG, I made a magazine! Snoopy dance!)
If I could go back and not have cancer at 35 you bet your ass I would. If I could, I'd trade in my chemo-shot ovaries, my fear with every ache and pain that the cancer has returned, my depleted bank account, my child's fear of deadly illnesses, and my husband's late night worries -- absolutely. I'd swap the 20 lbs menopause has given me, the heavy silicone "foob" I stuff in my bra each morning, the compression sleeve, and the lymphadema pump. I'd trade it all.
But I can't now and I certainly couldn't then. And so good things fell apart. Good things fell to pieces and lay scattered all over the floor for a good long time.
But now... I'm a week shy of the four year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. In these last four years my life has changed completely. For a long time I grieved the changes. But then slowly, slowly things started to improve. I spent less time in doctor's offices and began to regain momentum in my life. I went back to work, my child grew, I wrote. Slowly, slowly good things -- better things -- began to fall together.
But my cancer experience was never far. It was always in the back of my mind, and I didn't know what to do with it. I didn't know how to put it away, how to slide it into a drawer and be done with it.
And then one day I met a person just like me: a young woman who was diagnosed with Stage III, HER2+ breast cancer under 40. We drank each other in. Everything she said I could relate to and everything I said she nodded vigorously. I didn't know how much I needed her until she was there, standing before me, saying, "Yes!" and "I know!" and "What helped me was..."
Meeting her I suddenly realized I was starving for connection like this. Sure my life had resumed and my diagnosis had faded to the background and I had met plenty of breast cancer survivors (sadly they're everywhere aren't they?) but these women as kind as they were were all my mom's age, my grandmother's age even. And it turns out it isn't the same. I was still reeling in a way from my own diagnosis and my treatment year, not to mention all the side-effects that were on-going. Meeting this young woman was life changing. Suddenly I had someone to talk to about early menopause and fertility, about lymphadema and "scanxiety."
From that chance meeting grew a digital magazine, Wildfire. It is all about the personal stories. Think This American Life meets Science Friday. I realized how much I needed to connect with other young women survivors of breast cancer in order to heal and grow. And it turns out I'm not alone in that sentiment.
Four years ago my life fell apart. Today, with the launch of this magazine, better things are falling together.