The fight against brain cancer was almost a distant memory on June 19, 2017. While we could never truly forget the life saving battle we were waging, some days that battle became background to real life.
A year ago today, the battle Matt and I were waging in the foreground was against H’s temper tantrums. And the only text I sent Matt was a picture of H eating a well-balanced dinner. (The theory being his all-pasta-all-the-time diet might be causing the temper tantrums. The healthy eating plan didn’t last that long for H.) Matt responded: that’s my boy.
Two years prior, on June 19, 2016, brain cancer was also a battle that became background to real life. Which seems unthinkable. Days prior we’d met with a neuro-oncologist and taken those first uncertain steps into a strange new world. How could brain cancer already be in the background?
I can say, with near certain confidence, that there’s never a good time to receive a brain cancer diagnosis. Regardless of the day of the week or the stage in life, the words brain cancer, brain tumor, and Glioblastoma, will devastate. Matt’s diagnosis came on a Wednesday, 11 days before his sister’s wedding. While we were researching doctors and side effects of Dexamethasone, we were also buying wedding shoes and finding matching hats for the groomsmen so Matt could hide his scar if he wanted. There was a moment in the hospital, when Matt’s neurosurgeon had hinted that Matt shouldn’t go to the wedding, and Matt shook his head and said no. He would not miss this wedding.
On June 19, 2016, the pathology report was not yet in, a fact that even the doctors found unusual. On June 19, 2016, the only doctor we’d met with was at Hackensack, and without the benefit of a pathology report, he took a look at Matt—his youth, his humor, his intelligence—and said he believed Matt should be okay. On June 19, 2016, Matt went to his sister’s wedding, gave a speech, and shook hands with all the guests. Whenever anyone asked after his health, he told them he was fine, feeling fine and going to be fine. The doctor said so. It was the truth we believed without hesitation that allowed us to push brain cancer to the background.
I would never call us lucky. No part of what happened to Matt was lucky. Too often, we found ourselves throwing our hands up in the air and wondering why we couldn’t just catch a break already. But in looking back on this day two years ago, we were fortunate in one way. Maybe call it good timing, rather than luck, but two years ago today, Matt and I went to his sister’s wedding and enjoyed the night without the dark cloud of a brain cancer diagnosis hanging over us.
In Matt’s version of the story, he always mentioned this bit of good timing. He always told the story of his diagnosis adding in the detail that he went to his sister’s wedding believing his tumor was nothing but a bump on the road to our happily ever after. Overall, this detail was irrelevant to his diagnosis story (as was the kilt detail)—and I often wanted him to stick to the facts when speaking to the doctors—but he never failed to mention how glad he felt that the pathology report was late and he had the chance to go to the wedding and tell his family and friends that the doctor said he’d be fine. I can’t know why, but I suspect he brought up this detail because he felt grateful that on June 19, 2016, thanks to good timing, he could put brain cancer into the background for a night. He felt grateful he could enjoy this event that meant so much to him and set everyone’s mind at ease.
There’s a lesson in there, about gratitude and appreciating the little things, the unexpected blessing of good timing. But I look back and remember the way Matt told his story, adding in this detail about his sister’s wedding, which inevitably made even the sternest nurse smile, and see only this lesson: every jagged edged story has a soft edge somewhere, and it’s always worth the effort to slow down and find it.