When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, it was totally out of the blue. I had no symptoms and felt no lump. I was just having a routine exam. The results of the exam and the subsequent assessments were less than routine. Suddenly, I found my life spinning, pointing in countless other directions.
Unplanned and ambiguous change is hard on the human brain, so hard that sometimes it causes trauma. Sometimes the current situation is clear, “this is bad” but the future is a series of questions, “how bad will it get?”, “will this end?”, and “how will this end?”.
Actually, the future is not clear. Many things can happen. There are times when the perpetual questions of the next moment, the next week, the next, month, and the next year, are a huge burden, the burden of no immediate answers.
While I have been managing the swerves of active cancer treatment and while I still manage my recovery and potential for recurrence, I have been parenting, alongside my husband, our adolescent daughter. Zoey was just 13 when I was diagnosed, a few months before she entered high school. Her life was already a struggle. Zoey was very unhappy and her life was full of suffering.
All of the things that needed to be done, were being done, to support her health. She was working hard, as well. Nonetheless, the subsequent four years have been full of trials and some tribulations. There have been times during which all three of us have felt we had nothing left to give, nothing left to try, and no hope. Fortunately, this typically did not happen to all of us at once. But sadly, there were many times when I was digging up as much energy and hope as I could because I was the only one of the three of us who was capable of doing so. It was better than not having those reserves, but it was isolating and exhausting.
John and I have been working to protect Zoey for many years. In fact, this is the first time I’ve mentioned her name in at least two years, due to a malicious comment about her by someone who somehow found my blog. Zoey is a brilliant person with prodigious talents. She has a very big heart, a very strong will, and often does not think before acting. This combination can be painful for her as well as those around her. There are also things about her that put her at risk for discrimination beyond the fact that she is an outspoken young woman. She yearned for validation and often received the opposite.
This last school year was Zoey’s senior year. My husband and I made a concerted effort to focus on her happiness and almost totally backed off from her academics. We accepted that she may not graduate high school. In other realms, we held her feet to the fire. We held her accountable for following family rules, for example. This was a shift rather than an abdication of parental responsibility.
The last year has been the year of letting go. There have been failures, upsets, and unexpected events. But there has also been a palpable undercurrent of emotional growth and increased stability. This made is much easier to keep letting go.
Zoey was finishing high school through a program at our local college, which allows students who test into the program to simultaneously earn high school and college credit. Since each quarter-long class was equivalent to an entire year of a high school class, she only had to take three classes per quarter. This was much easier for her to manage from an organizational perspective though the courses were intense and fast. Another downside was that there was no information available about her academic progress until after the end of the quarter and grades were posted.
In June, relatively started asking if we were having a graduation party for Zoey. John and I had taken a “wait and see” approach. It still was not clear that she was graduating. About a week after finals, John and I took a look at her grades for the quarter. She had not only graduated but earned the best grades she had ever had in many years! Honestly, these were respectable marks for any college student, let-alone a 17-year-old.
Something had happened in a very short time. Our kid, who had just weeks before blurted out that she only tried to get 70% in her classes (a C-minus and by the way, the minimum needed to graduate high school), had suddenly changed direction. She didn’t even have to take the physics class. In fact, we didn’t understand why she was taking it. Zoey was taking it because she was thinking ahead to the following year, when she plans to finish her associates’ degree to make her more competitive for entry into a four-year college.
Meanwhile, without any prompting from us, she was out pounding the pavement looking for a job. And she found one at a new restaurant in our neighborhood. The owner is also very active in the LGBT/Q community, of which she is a part, and I am hoping this will be a more supportive workplace than she has experienced in the past.
I have mentioned that Zoey is quite a good jazz singer. Before June had even come to a close, we attended a performance of hers at a downtown jazz club, organized by her vocal teacher, who is a very well-known jazz singer in this region of the country. There were nine students who performed with a professional big band, each singing three songs. Zoey was first and her teacher gave her a very sweet introduction, calling her “a treasure”.
Zoey has long been an excellent singer and performer but she knocked it out of the park! She had grown a lot. Zoey had star quality. We were just thrilled for her.
I haven’t written in a while because life has been a bit of a blur with all of this change. But I will say that I have taken opportunities for NOW, to keep my head pointed in the present direction instead of trying to adjust to where I think my life will land.
I still don’t know what the future holds. I can’t read the tea leaves. I have no crystal ball. But what I do have is now, which at this moment is a thing of great beauty, purpose, and meaning.
Zoey opted not to attend her high school commencement ceremonies. She had moved on to taking college courses two years ago. She did agree to let me take photos of her in my Ph.D. robes, which I wore when I was five months pregnant with her.