I walked the kids to the bus stop on May 10, 2017 and felt my phone buzz with a text from Matt. Can I get a smoothie when you get back in from bus?
These May days waiting for the appointment with Hackensack to determine whether they’d give us Avastin are slow and they were as close to normal as we would get. Easy for me to live and relive, less easy for me to write about because what do I have to say about this day except, the kids went to school, Matt went to work with a smoothie in hand, and I reviewed a manuscript for the literary agency I interned for.
The smoothie is the only clue in that recap that shows the cancer was still a shadow looming somewhere on our road to happily ever after. I’m pretty sure if I’d have offered Matt a smoothie with spinach, flax seeds, and organic berries before he was diagnosed he would have looked at me like I’d grown a third eye.
After Matt was diagnosed, when the enormity of the monster we were up against came into focus, we did what a lot of people who are diagnosed with cancer do. We went to the health food store and bought supplements. ALL the supplements. With a little help from family, Matt changed his diet completely, going all organic, cutting out sugar, and coming as close to a ketogenic diet as he could, the theory being that cancer cells live on sugar and if you cut sugar, you starve the cancer cells. Matt gave up his favorite foods, changed his lifestyle (more meditation, more walks around the neighborhood, more sleep) in an effort to fight the cancer.
When Matt’s tumor came back so much sooner than we’d ever expected, the blow was twice as devastating because, in our minds, we’d done everything right. He’d taken the supplements and drank the vegetable juices and cut the sugar. The little bit of control we thought we’d had in this fight turned out to be nothing but an illusion; the ace in our pocket against the cancer had failed.
Sometime last year, I went to a yoga class and the instructor talked about the importance of meditation. No argument here. But then she said this: “if you don’t meditate, you will get cancer.” Whether she meant to say such an absolute statement or whether those words, which put the blame on the patient’s shoulders, tumbled out by accident, I don’t know. But the sentence struck me and stuck with me, and still, actually, kind of infuriates me.
Because Matt did get cancer. And his cancer did come back. And none of it happened because of what he ate or didn’t eat or because he meditated or didn’t. The scary truth is no one knows why any of it happened and none of it was his fault.
Matt drank the smoothie with the powders and supplements and flax-chia seed mixture. That night, he drank the green juice waiting with his dinner. He stopped denying himself pizza and the occasional milkshake. Because we learned, in our specific fight, there was only so much we could control, and we couldn’t let ourselves become so bound up by rules and restrictions that we forgot how to live.