Thursday, March 29, 2012

Life Is Both Cruel and Beautiful

Of course, I have known this truth for a long time, but I never really knew it until Hudson died. And the world grew so very dark. And we were surrounded and uplifted by so much love and light from literally all corners of the earth. And then Jackson was born. And the world grew brighter again. And all those corners of the world celebrated with us. 

Today, life showed me once again how terribly cruel and terribly beautiful it can be.

This afternoon, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I discovered some swollen lymph nodes back in the beginning of February, and after getting them looked at and waiting them out and trying to treat them with antibiotics, I ultimately went for a CT scan last week and a biopsy today. The pathologist told me within minutes of looking at the slides that it appeared to be Hodgkin’s. They still have to do confirmatory tests, but it is all but certain that they will show what we already know, what I have been preparing myself for since I first felt the lump in my neck several weeks ago. 

Life is cruel.

Last night, we went under contract on a house in Carrboro that we plan to renovate into our dream home, complete with a 1-acre yard for Easter egg hunts and hide-and-seek and maybe even an at-home wedding for one of our kids one day. Today, I have cancer. This morning, I swam a mile as part of my triathlon training to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. This afternoon, I became a lymphoma patient myself. The irony is almost surreal. I can still barely believe I am even writing these words right now.    

There is still so much we don’t know. We suspect, and hope, for a variety of clinical reasons, that the cancer is still in a very early stage. Given that we are moving to North Carolina in a few weeks anyway, our plan is just to meet with an oncologist at UNC early next week and go from there. Hodgkin’s is very curable, even in advanced stages—cure rates are as high as 80-90% depending on the type and other factors. Despite my lack of faith in odds based on our experience with Hudson (the survival rate of her type of meningitis was also around 80-90%), I am obviously going to start from the proposition that I am going to be one of the lucky ones in that 80-90%. I am trying desperately not to even entertain an alternative. I am trying desperately not to think about all that this means for the rest of my life—whether I’ll be able to have more children, whether I’ll get to watch Jackson grow up, whether I’ll get to tend the garden I plan to plant for Hudson at our new home, whether I’ll get to spend many more decades with my dear Ed like I have planned and dreamed of doing. 

No. I will not think about those things. Not today.

Because life is also beautiful. 

Ed is unwavering in his love, his support, and his resolve that we will survive this. We. All of us. Will survive. He and Jackson and Hudson are my very reasons for being, and they are the most stunning, perfect, incredible reasons any person could ever ask for. I have amazing family and friends who will be there for us for whatever we need for as long as we need. I remain surrounded by love and light from all corners of the world (and thank you all for continuing to check in and read and think of us even during my long periods of silence). I have health insurance. I will get world-class treatment. I have a dream home just waiting to be uncovered and lived in and loved by us for many decades with our children who will grow up in it and forever return to it whenever they need an anchor. I swam a mile this morning. With cancer. 

One Good Thing about this diagnosis is that I am reminded, once again, that in spite of the ridiculously rotten luck that just refuses to leave me alone, I am still astoundingly fortunate. 

Life is both cruel and beautiful. I choose to focus on the beautiful. If there’s even a choice.

53 comments:

  1. Mandy, you are a beautiful, wise, generous person with an incredible spirit. I am so deeply sorry you have this new burden to bear.
    Much love.
    Liz

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  2. There's always a choice. At some point, it's going to be hard to choose the beautiful, but my prayer for you is that you will choose to focus on the beautiful and the hopeful.

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  3. You and your family will be in my thoughts and prayers, Mandy. After reading your blog, I know of your love for and connections to UNC. Please also consider getting a second opinion from doctors at Duke. They are doing amazing things there as well and despite not loving their sports teams (I'm no fan of Duke, either!) doctors there saved my life five years ago. They really are at the forefront of many clinical trials and new therapies - as I know UNC is as well. I know you and Ed will make the best decision - one that will ensure that you live a long, happy life. Be well, Mandy!

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  4. Mandy,
    Daz and I are sending you so much bright light and positive peace. I continue to remain in awe of your courage, strength and willingness to be vulnerable. You are a hero to me in so many ways. Please let us know what we can do to support you, Ed and Jackson.

    All my love always and always,
    Candy

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  5. Mandy, I don't know if you remember Amy Sproull who was a senior at Latin your freshman year. She married Justin Brittain, Lauren's brother. About five or six years ago, just after giving birth she was diagnosed with Hodgkins. Her doctor said at that time, that "if you have to have cancer, this is the one you want to have." After a year or two of treatment, she is cancer free and continues to have great scans. She has since had a second child. They live in Charlotte now, they were in NYC when she was diagnosed, but they were on their way here (similar to you and your family.) She has a wonderful caringbridge page that I think you can still access. She, like you, should be a writer. The page is: caringbridge.com/visit/AmyBrittain. Let me know if you can't get to it that way. I think you would find it encouraging.
    Love to you and all.......don't know why you get dumped on this way, but our prayers are with you.
    Lil

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  6. The unfairness of this makes me want to scream. I am hopeful because of the cure rates and the excellent care available at UNC, but the fact that you have to go through any of this enrages me. I am so sorry that you are facing yet another scary battle. The only words I can think to type are curse words.

    I admire your outlook, determination, and perspective. There is so MUCH about you to admire, Mandy. So glad Ed is there to support you. We are all here, too, so please lean on your friends near and far as often as you need.

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  7. Oh God, Mandy. I am heartbroken over this news. Life is cruel; as if the loss of Hudson were not enough for one family to bear. I'm not worried that you won't beat this, but I'm just beyond mad that it's another bunch of crap you have to deal with! F*&^
    I am here for you friend. Sending love and light. And seriously, here for you. anytime, anywhere, anything. love, love, love, my dear. Olivia

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  8. Mandy, I am so sorry. It is quite clear to me that you'll continue to find the strength, grace, and courage you need each day (as you already do) as you are simply an amazing woman.

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  9. Oh, Mandy, I'm so sorry you have to face yet another cruel hardship. Thinking of you with love tonight. ~ Stacey

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  10. You will be in my prayers, and in so many others' I know! --Chris Carter

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  11. Mandy and Ed, I am so so sorry to read this. Your perspective is beautiful and I also hope you find room to feel however you feel about this. Thinking of you three and sending love your way. Sarah Walls

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  12. There are no words, dearest Mandy and Ed. Know that when you arrive in NC you will have all of our support; of course, you have it now, but we'll do whatever we can to be of help.

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  13. My heart is heavy tonight that there is an additional burden that you are forced to carry. Medicine has let you down in the past, I hope this time it can show you how miraculous it can be. A young friend of mine was recently diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer, one round of aggressive chemo later and they did her mastectomy to find that she had experienced a complete pathologic response.... there was no ongoing malignancy in either her breast tissue or her lymph nodes. I will look forward to the day you can bring us similar news and I will keep you, Ed, Jackson, and Hudson in my thoughts and prayers.

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  14. You are amazing. I, along with so many others, think the WORLD of you. I want to scream at the top of my lungs, "This is not fair"!!

    You are always in my thoughts.

    LOVE AND HUGS,
    Sarah

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  15. Mandy, as always you are my hero. You are amazing and so full of love. I have no others words except to tell you how lucky I feel to have you as my friend. Jenn

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  16. Lots of hugs, love and light to you sweet friend. You WILL get through this because you are one of the(if not THE) strongest and most courageous women I know. Prayers coming for you and your family!

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  17. mandy and ed- i had the sensation of my heart falling out of my body when i read this, it is just so unbelievable. this lifetime has dealt you more than your share of blows - and yet your phenomenal core strength, life compass, and the community of family and friends you have earned, have pulled you to your feet again and again. your message tonight shows that strength is already stirring with this latest blow, readying to hold you and keep you steady. we are with you and join the throngs of those standing eager to embrace and support you in chapel hill. with much love- holly and fam

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  18. F. I hate that you're having to deal with this... The irony of the dream home and your hopes and dreams isnt lost on me. I will be thinking of you.

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  19. mandy,
    this is not per se relevant to your struggles, nor is this meant to teach you anything. i know you know. it's just where i go for consolation when i get sad, when i think life is brutal, when i can't make sense of the senselessness. i like staring at a picture of the "pale blue dot", and read/hear carl sagan's words. it sort of makes the cruelty of the universe incredible. in some horrible incredible way.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p86BPM1GV8M

    kristina

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  20. Mandy,

    Your response to the cruelty in life is what is so amazing and beautiful. Sending prayers, buckets full.

    Jeanette

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  21. Mandy,

    I'm so sorry. You are amazing. We're praying. Please don't hesitate to let us know what we can do to help you in a tangible way when you get to NC.

    Love,
    Andrea

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  22. Mandy,
    I've been checking on your twitter updates to see if there was a followup to the labs note... when I read it, I felt struck deeply and have not been able to get it out of my mind... *and* I wanted to respect whatever reasons we had not seen an update (though I did hope it was just because you were super busy between the house selling and house buying that there was not time). Since I read that tweet, I have been holding you in the Light and hoping,wishing that everything was OK. Tonight, I am sending you love and Light and I am meditating on the fact that you know what this is and will have access to skilled people who can support you as you move through it...
    Seven years ago, a dear friend was visiting us and her husband woke us up in the middle of the night to say that he needed to take her to the hospital because she had abdominal pain. Two days later, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer. When they came back to our house from the hospital to tell us the diagnoses, I looked her in the eye and said that I felt so clearly that she was going to make it through the fight. She is now in remission and continuing to live deeply and fully. Tonight, all I can say is that I feel just as clearly that you are going to make it through this fight. You have the same tenacious verve, the same ability to reach right to the heart of any situation, the same passion for your family and your broader circle...
    I join the chorus of people and don't have anything unique to share. I am so sorry that you have to face this. I am stunned by the news. And, I join so many in saying that I, too, would do whatever I could to support you and lift you up as you battle onward.
    All my best,
    Rachel C.

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  23. I really just can't believe you are having to deal with this. Your words and attitude are remarkable. I recently fell in love with the UNC Cancer Center who is working so hard to treat my dad who has stage IV colon cancer. When we thought the worst, they gave us hope. Duke (those dookies) cured my sister of non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma 20 years ago. My point in all this--you will be surrounded here by the best medical care team who will certainly serve you well. Upon leaving the first visit with my dad to the UNC Oncologist, we passed a dry erase board where patients/families could write thoughts and messages. The message we wrote was: Our journey begins with hope.

    It sounds like yours already has.

    Much love to you,

    kirsten

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  24. Mandy, my heart dropped out of my chest when I read this. My God. Chad and I will be praying every day for a swift recovery. Sending you so much love this evening and always. Whatever, if anything, we can do, please do not even think twice about reaching out. We consider you and Ed (and Jackson and Hudson) family. We love you.

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  25. Oh Mandy, I am so sorry. You deserve the opposite of this, the opposite of a cancer diagnosis...you deserve to live a long, healthy life with your growing family. Life is not fair, obviously. I am just so sorry. I will also ignore the negatives and send only positive thoughts for a speedy recovery your way. You can get through this. You swam a mile today, with cancer. You are nothing short of amazing. Sending huge hugs your way.
    -Jamie

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  26. You will probably hear a million of these, but I wanted to pass along the fact that with no history of cancer in my family at all, my brother was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma a few years ago at 33 years old. It was in his neck and chest--Stage IIA. The oncologist said that if you're going to get any kind of cancer, this one is the one to get.
    It doesn't need to be said that the treatment is rough. But we did a lot of research and opted for as little treatment as possible to be cured and hopefully avoid some of the potential side effects--4 rounds instead of 6, and no radiation.
    As little as 3 months after his treatment was complete, he said that it already felt so far removed from his experience that it was almost like it happened to someone else.
    I look forward to hearing those same words from you.
    If you are looking for more about his journey through this, I began writing about it at http://tunheimfamily.blogspot.com.au/2009/09/c-word.html and updated regularly throughout his treatment.
    Thinking of you.

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  27. Sending you all good, positive, optimistic thoughts--

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  28. I am so sorry to hear this. I will keep wishing and hoping that this will be an upsetting and stressful but ultimately minor blip in a long life, a story you tell your grandchildren.

    (And for what it's worth, congratulations on the house!)

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  29. Mandy. This is unbelievable. I am so sorry to hear this news. Just as you would have done after Hudson died, put one foot in front of the other and take baby steps. Your attitude continues to amaze and inspire so many of us. As you said you were surrounded by love from all corners of the earth then, you still are Mandy. From so many of those who know and love you and your family, so many of us who've never met you, still love all of you. And you have your beautiful Hudson with you Mandy, protecting you. I love reading those last paragraphs, I can hear it Mandy, your strength and the love. You will all of you survive this. Why you have been given yet another unbearable challenge is beyond me, just know that I'm praying and thinking and sending lots and lots of love and positive vibes your way. xx

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  30. Oh Mandy. I am so terribly sorry to read your news. I can only echo many of the previous posters and I'm sure many of the personal anecdotes that will be shared with you. I have two friend's who have been diagnosed with Hodgkin's, both in their 20s, and both have made great, full recoveries. But I know it is a tough, tough road to walk and I'm just sorry.
    If I have learnt anything at all,it is that life can be horribly, terribly cruel, babies and little children die and awful things happen to those who least deserve it. But it can also be so beautiful, it can be so very, very sweet and occasionally something wonderful can happen. And I hope you will be here, filling the world with your grace and enjoying your new house with Ed and Jackson for many, many years to come.
    I always think of you, Hudson and Jackson when I play I'm So Glad I'm Here and I'm hoping for you so very much. Life is beautiful and you're right, often we have no choice but to see it that way.

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  31. Wow, Mandy this just sucks.

    There is absolutely NOTHING to say that doesn't sound trite or stupid or ridiculous. And forgive me, because I am sure this does, bot hopefully it can offer some little comfort: I have had two close friends that have had this rotten disease - both of them young women like yourself - and they both beat it completely and are 100% healthy today.

    I am not sure why you were given more than one person's share of shit to deal in your life, but my bet is on you emerging stronger than ever.

    Hannah

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  32. Oh wow, Mandy. I know I've said this before, but it's so true - you are AMAZING. I will be thinking of you every step of the way and praying desperately that everything turns out well. You deserve to watch Jackson (and future children) grow up and grow old with Ed. I have to imagine that you have Hudson pulling for you as well.

    You are definitely an inspiration to all of us.

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  33. Mandy--no, no, no! Why more cruelty for you and your family? I'm so sorry. Much love and hope coming from me. -Amanda/metinperu

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  34. I did a double take when I read this. I'm so sad to hear of your diagnosis, but I'm so happy to hear your positive outlook.

    I do truly believe you will be 90 years old with Ed in that dream house surrounded by your grandchildren.

    Thinking of you and your family.

    - Kate

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  35. Oh my word, I am so so sorry! Life can indeed be very cruel. But like you said, Hodgkins does have such a high cure rate, and I pray that you will sail through treatments and this will all seem like a terrible dream before too long. Know that you have lots of people thinking of you!

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  36. Mandy & Ed & Jackson -
    Holding you all in the Light, and sending prayers your way.
    I've been so delighted that you were moving back to Chapel Hill/Carrboro. Please know, as I'm sure that you do, that you will be surrounded by love and by helping hands when you are here.

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  38. My stomach just flipped over reading this. I am angry at the universe or whatever there is for giving you so much to deal with. Mandy, you are going to kick this thing in the butt as swiftly as you can!

    We have never met but following your journey since Hudson's illness, you have become very dear to me and
    I have no doubt that you will get healthy and beat that crap.

    Thinking of you and Ed, Jackson and your little girl.

    Best,
    Jana

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  39. Mandy, I am so so sorry. You are the very definition of strong. I hope you feel all the support in the world around you.

    Sarah

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  40. Like another of your supporters all I want to do is have a full blown tantrum and yell not nice things. I have always respected your Grace and know I do not posses this. I send you love and strength. Let the NC healing begin!
    Mandy

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  41. I am without words. Unfair doesn't express my feelings enough. Sending positives thoughts your way....Liz W

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  42. It plain sucks..and I am sorry for you having to deal with so much more when you were finally moving forward to a better place for you and your family. Yes, I will pray and ask for peace for you, but it sucks!

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  43. Sweet Mandy I am thinking of you, your husband and both of your children tonight. Dealing with a life threatening illness is something that feels like a balancing act- a balance between loving each moment of every day, and a dark fear of the unknown road to come. I have tears my eyes for you tonight and am sending you so much love and strength. You are strong and amazingly full of determination Mandy. We will walk with you and bear witness as you fight this.. and as you win.
    Love, hugs and endless light my friend...

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  44. Oh Mandy, this is hard to bear. You did not need to be asked to fight another battle right now. But I have no doubt that you will fight it with all the courage and humor I know you have. Please know that there are so many people thinking good thoughts for you and your family.

    Best, Morey

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  45. How absolutely incredible that you can continue to find the beauty of life in the face of this...this...lunacy. Adding myself to the chorus of profanities at the injustice of this news, to the overwhelming love and support that is reverberating through the interweb and to the happy anticipation of the joy to come in the next phase of your life.

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  46. Mandy, I am so sorry to hear this wretched news. I don't even know what to say. I will pray for you and your son and husband.

    Elizabeth from TNT

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  47. I am speechless. And so very sorry. I am lifting you up with prayers for continued strength and for healing.

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  48. Words fail me. So just sending you hugs and love.

    Kris

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  49. I hadn't checked your blog for a few weeks and saw this post tonight. Wow. The first thing that popped into my head was "hasn't she endured enough already??". My heart goes out to you and your family...

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  50. I just reactivated my FB account in anticipation of ending my Lenten fast tomorrow. Looked at my home page a bit. Saw this news. Came here.

    I like how some people are so supportive and encouraging. I wish I had some of those wise words. The only ones I have right now, however are these: WHAT. THE. FUCK.

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  51. Mandy, I haven't been here in a while. Thank you to Jana, one of your readers who also reads my blog. She mentioned that I needed to come over here to see what's been happening.

    Mandy, this is actually one of the most inspiring, beautiful posts you have ever written. I like the others where you honor Hudson's life. But this one, this ONE in particular you sound stronger, more powerful, more hopeful than I have ever heard you write.

    It's difficult at times to read your blog. I feel for you to the depths of my soul, and I suppose that is why it's so difficult to read daily or even weekly.

    This post, altho littered with calamity, is inspiring and ironically hopeful. I will catch up on your life by reading the following posts, but I just had to comment at this point.

    Love, prayers and hugs are going out to you,

    Andrea

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