Recently a friend from college contacted me on Facebook to let me know that she'd been thinking of me and Janet. She was also kind enough to send a whole mess of gifts for the baby: toys, linens, baby-proofing items, you name it. When I thanked her for her generosity, she said something that stuck with me:
"I give you guys a lot of credit for handling it all with a sense of humor and grace."
I've been spinning those words around in my head for a couple of weeks, thinking about what it means. In part, it probably means that I'm not entirely comfortable accepting compliments. In relaying my friend's remark to others, I've reflexively joked that it's the first time that anyone has accused me of being graceful. Go ahead and ask my high school track coach, who badgered me about my flat-footed running technique.
As you might be able to tell, the whole humor thing is easier for me to grasp. It's been a chief coping mechanism since adolescence, and moreover, it's one of the essentials of my relationship with Janet. We've told and retold the story of how we met, but I don't get tired of telling it. It was almost four years ago, and Janet had just signed up for OKCupid. She was browsing online dating profiles late at night, and was sufficiently bewitched by the dimples in my profile photo to take a closer look. Among other things, the profile template at OKC prompts users to share the most private thing they're willing to admit, and my response was, "I shower in the nude". Upon reading this, Janet says she laughed so suddenly and so loudly that her rescue mutt Val jumped up from beside her and began barking in alarm. So she messaged me just to say that my goofy joke had startled her dog. It set the perfect tone for our lives together, really.
Given our personalities and the unusual situation we've faced in recent months, responding with humor was never even a choice. I mean, when you lay out the facts as they are, it can seem bleak and overwhelming:
- After ten months of trying, we found out we were expecting a baby in March 2015, and Janet miscarried little more than a month later.
- Six months down the line, we conceived again. The pregnancy was classified high-risk, as Janet's blood sugar was on the high side for an expectant mom. (It's been well managed with insulin injections, thankfully.)
- At the ultrasound anatomy scan, we learned that the baby has a cleft lip. Even if there's no cleft palette (the OB says it's not likely, based on how small the cleft in the lip appears, but it can't definitively be ruled out), the baby will require surgery between 10-12 weeks after birth.
- Late in February, Janet found a lump in her right breast. She had an ultrasound and biopsy on March 1, and on the way home from the hospital got a phone call from her parents to let her know that her grandma had passed away. Two days later, after we'd driven to North Carolina for the visitation and funeral, Janet got the call with the dreaded breast cancer diagnosis.
- In the midst of all of this, I'm still paying the mortgage on the rowhouse, even though we moved into our new single-family home last Halloween. Between everything going on in our personal lives and our well-earned reputations as champion procrastinators, we haven't made it enough of a priority to find renters for the old house. So that's a lot of money stress, before you consider expenses for baby, cancer treatments, and pets (our obnoxious cat Charlie could not have picked a worse time to break multiple bones in his front paw).
You never know how you're going to react to a difficult situation until you're confronted with it. I was terrified when we got the diagnosis, but soon thereafter I think we both adopted an attitude of doing whatever was needed to get through one day and move on to the next. Once we met with the doctors at GBMC, there was a plan of attack, and shortly thereafter, Janet began chemo treatments. Everything moved quickly enough that we didn't have time to dwell too terribly much. Cancer, chemotherapy, surgery, radiation...they're scary words. But actually going through the process has demystified a lot of it.
Most importantly, we have had an incredible support system from the word go. If we've handled our challenges with any sort of grace, we have drawn that grace from friends, family, and acquaintances. You've sent cards, baby gifts, and little tokens just to let us know you're thinking of us. You've cooked us meals or brought us takeout to spare us the trouble on days when we're busy or low on energy. You've shared your own stories to remind us that we can beat this thing. You've texted, called, emailed, or stopped by at the office to ask how we're doing. Most amazingly, you helped Janet raise $3,700 for childhood cancer research, which really helped her clear the mental hurdle of saying goodbye to her hair. Two months in, we feel like we're well on the way to beating cancer, and it's absolutely been a group effort. Thank you all.