There are times when I think that cancer was and will be a small blip in my life. In those times, I think that this whole experience will be like pregnancy or law school -- while it was going on, it felt like an eternity, but in retrospect, it was just a blink of the eye.
Then there are other times, when I realize that cancer has profoundly changed me; that it is an overwhelming beast that I need to somehow find a way to make peace with, or maybe even tame. Unfortunately, it's not easy to tame beasts.
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I can't remember the last time that both of our kids were in bed and asleep before 7pm, but last night, miraculously, it happened. I admit, their early bedtime wasn't so much because they were exhausted but because we were.
There's an awesome irony in the fact that a few hours into the peace and quiet, I asked Brian if he wanted to do a little bit of adoption research together. He agreed to, and on our respective MacBook Airs, we started our first real research about how we could bring another baby into our home.
As I've described before, Brian is the steady one in our pair. He is thoughtful and purposeful and he doesn't let his emotions get out of whack (except, perhaps, when it comes to coaching hockey or inputting Apple IDs). So naturally, Brian's starting point for research was the process, the facts, the things we would need to have and to do.
I, on the other hand, found myself wrapped up in the emotional details almost immediately. Fifteen years of trying to be more like my husband, you'd think I'd have made some progress, but no. Instead, I clicked my way to adoption sites to read the profiles of couples and single people introducing themselves to birth mothers in hopes that the mother would choose them to be her child's adoptive parents. To be totally honest, I had no idea that domestic adoption worked this way.
For an hour or so, I read profiles and looked at photos of the pre-adoptive parents' homes and extended families. I read about their religion, their favorite books, and whether they have a gender or a racial preference. I read about how much they all want to bring a baby into their home and about why they have turned to adoption to accomplish that. And I realized, about 30 profiles in, that none of them spoke about cancer.
With this realization that we were different, and not in a good way, I was on the verge of tears. But Brian was in a groove so I didn't want to interrupt him. He was calm and collected, at least on the outside, moving between adoption related websites and Fantasy Football stats which is just how I thought it should be -- a dose of normalcy mixed in with something completely foreign.
Pretending that I was as stable as he was, I decided to check out the international adoption route. I read up on several countries and their individually complex situations. I learned the very basics about the adoption situations in Guatemala, Uganda, Ghana, South Africa, Bulgaria, and Haiti. I learned that adopting a child from a foreign country usually involves both parents making two trips there -- the first, a three to four week "bonding trip" and then a second trip, some weeks later, focused on completing the legalities and bringing the baby home.
One word kept coming up in my research, and in Brian's -- volatile.
Several sites explained explicitly or implicitly that the process of adopting a child can be a volatile one -- with many unknowns, starts and stops, and sometimes, significant disappointment. I know that having a baby the natural way or through fertility treatments can involve all of the same, and I tried to keep that perspective.
But after a while, I couldn't contain myself anymore. With a huge lump in my throat, I told Brian that this was way harder than I thought it was going to be and I went to bed.
I turned on the Sunday night football game on our small bedroom TV, because those games have helped ease my anxieties ever since I was little girl. It's October, so there was pink everywhere. Brian quickly joined me and a few minutes later, we listened to the announcers explain the extraordinary progress that has been made in treating breast cancer. Still, I couldn't even see the game through my tears.
What is so hard about last night is that I can barely even articulate why I was so upset. Partly, I just wanted to scream in frustration; that I feel like I make such progress, then the terrible beast rears its ugly head again. I managed to get one thought out to Brian before I fell asleep and today, I'm going to start with just that.
"No one would ever pick a woman with breast cancer," I told him after he waited very patiently for me to want to talk. I was referring to birth mothers in the United States who would be combing through hundreds of profiles, and to my brand new realization that because of that cancer beast on my back, I was an unlikely candidate.
"But you don't have breast cancer anymore," Brian explained.
"Yeah, but no one knows the difference."
I cried myself to sleep in Brian's arms not long after that. It's been a while since I've worked myself up into such a state. Then again, beasts can be tricky that way.
* * *
Before I was diagnosed and for some time after, I equated cancer with a death sentence. I know that some people still think of it that way, because I hear it in their voices when they talk to me. I also know that some cancers don't offer patients a whole lot of hope, but from the very little bit I know through my own experiences, in most cases, breast cancer is different. Thanks to the millions, if not billions, of dollars that have been raised and pumped into breast cancer research, fortunate women and men with aggressive triple positive, triple negative, and even Stage III and IV breast cancers are living long and healthy lives.
I know that Octobers have a lot to do with those millions of dollars. The pink that is everywhere, from the dye in the pages of the newspaper to the top of the Prudential Tower, helps raise awareness, and awareness matters.
But "awareness" is an interesting concept that we should all think more about. Awareness of what? Awareness of how many people have, or will get, breast cancer? Awareness of how much money and work is still needed to cure the disease for all of its victims? Awareness of how much it sucks? Awareness of how much progress has been made? After last night, I'm gradually realizing how much I hope that all of that pink will help teach, or perhaps just remind a birth mother out there that breast cancer is not a death sentence.
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I know that everyone loves a story that ends well. I know that there are some people who will follow this blog to see if we really do end up being blessed with an adopted child. But I'm not writing any of this to set up a "happy ending" and I really hope that's not why anyone is reading it. I don't think of my story in those sorts of terms anymore. There is no neat and clean beginning or middle. Or end. For any of us.
I have no idea if we will end up pursuing adoption, never mind succeeding in it if we do. This morning, I just know that when I least expect it, cancer can hand me a moment when I feel like it's a terrible beast that I will never be able to tame.
Last night, I ended up deciding that all I could do was cry myself to sleep when I came to a tragic realization to which I didn't even listen to Brian's response. "If I were a birth mother, I wouldn't even choose me," I explained, in my own terrible pity party. And in my half-conscious state before sleep, I considered taking this whole blog down, lest it crush any possible chance we have at someone choosing us.
I decided this morning that I'm not going to take this blog down even though within these pages I have admitted that I let my kids eat ice cream for breakfast every now and then. To hide all of this would only just perpetuate the problem. We need to raise awareness about the progress that has been made, in addition to the work that still needs to be done. Because despite that my lullaby to Annabel last night was Katy Perry's Roar, and despite that stupid beast of a disease, I know that our family would be the perfect place for another little baby. And by "perfect" I don't mean perfect. I mean very loving. And very real.