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What I really wish I had said out loud to all of you on Saturday night and what I have felt in my heart since Austin’s first diagnosis with cancer, five years ago yesterday:
On July 30, 2007, our near-perfect world was flipped on its head with the discovery of five tumors on the kidneys of our ten-month-old Austin. There are so many analogies we’ve used to describe our long and complicated journey with pediatric cancer; the first was that we felt as if we’d been plunged into a foreign land, complete with its own language and customs, its own definitions of “normal” and “okay,” its own hierarchy of authority. A world that we never intended to visit and a world from which we had no clear way out. We’ve also used the battle analogy, a common one for cancer patients, best described here in Fighting Words.
But my favorite and the one most fitting to my life is the marathon analogy. Mark and I, and Braedan and Austin, were forced to run a marathon for which we had not trained. In fact, we had no intention of running anything at all until the very moment we found ourselves standing at the starting line. And this was no ordinary marathon; this one followed no accepted and enforced rules. The course was changed on us numerous times — we’d come around a corner, usually after a particularly grueling hill, and we’d expect to see a finish line or at least a halfway mark, but nooooo, it had all been moved. Some evil race organizer had switched the mile markers and moved the finish line, over and over again. We never knew when to conserve energy or when to kick it in high gear. We never knew how much more we’d have to take and how horrible it would be.
Every time I’ve run a marathon, I’ve put my name on my shirt. This is a very strategic and effective move: I want people to cheer for me. No, more than that, I need people to cheer for me. When my legs get tired and I wonder how on earth I’ll be able to run one more step, let alone nine more miles, I need to hear some stranger on the sidelines call out my name, “Go Krissy! You can do it, Krissy!” And I do. That one cheer makes me pick up my pace, I hold my head higher and I keep on keeping on.
I put Austin’s cancer on my shirt. Every day, on the Carepage and then the blog, I wore it emblazoned across my chest, for all the world to see: this is what’s happening, this is what we fear, this is what we need, this is what we hope. I did it not because I wanted you all to cheer for us, but because I needed you to. I needed you to know what we were going through each step of the way so you could go along with us. And go along, you did. You cheered wildly when things were good, you pushed us along when things were rough. You held us up when we thought we’d fall over, you helped us choose our way when the course pointed in two completely different but equally terrifying directions. You even offered to run parts for us. You said, “Here, rest, just for a moment, just for a mile. Let me hold this burden for you.” The rules don’t allow that sort of thing, in running or in cancer, so instead you ran along beside us. And when we couldn’t possibly fathom taking one more step, you told us we could, and we did. You told us we were strong and that made us strong. You told us we would make it and look, . . . we made it. We crossed the finish line, with arms held high in victory. This race is finally, finally over. There may be another race in our future, but we hope to be better prepared for that one. And no matter what, we know you’ll be there cheering yet again.
We made it. And you were there every step of the way. And for that, we thank you.
It was magical. That’s really the best word to describe it. The weather held out beautifully and the party was most certainly held outside in the yard, where we had always envisioned it (and what we — ahem, Mark — had worked so hard for). It had a wedding-like quality, which was both good and bad. Bad only in the sense that all these people had come to celebrate with us and we managed to have very few meaningful or long conversations with anyone. It was lots of quick minutes with one group or another before moving onto the next arriving (or departing) guests. I now want to have many smaller gatherings where we can actually sit and connect with our friends (and boy, do we have the leftover beer and wine for that!).
I do have two regrets. The first, pretty minor, is that I fully intended to use my last blog post to ask people to take their own pictures and post them. That way I would have seen the evening from many different perspectives, all the small groups that formed here or there, on the lawn or the porch or even the treehouse deck. But I totally forgot and it wasn’t until the sun had already set that I thought to ask our helper girls to go around and snap some shots. The flash on my iPhone isn’t very good, but they definitely managed to capture the magical quality of the yard with all its twinkling lights.
Representing the westside
(You must all know that, if you’re in my life, you have implicitly granted permission for me to publicly display your photos, official release form or not. And you all looked lovely anyway, so no complaining.)
My second regret is much bigger and it’s that I didn’t take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to thank everyone publicly. You know that whenever there’s a microphone available, I find a way to speak into it! And yes, we had a microphone and yes, I had something in my head to say, but there never seemed to be the right moment. It all went by in a flash, until suddenly I took a breath and there were just fifteen of us sitting out on the porch (which we did until 3am). When one of my girlfriends said she was surprised I hadn’t spoken, I said that I’d intended to, and they then convinced me to stand up and do it right there. I felt a little silly, since I was speechifying to my nearest and dearest (and a few late night randoms) but of course, I didn’t need much arm-twisting.
I will write it to you here tomorrow, I promise, a belated Thank You edited from what I can only imagine was some margarita-induced rambling. But for now just accept our thanks for coming and sharing in the specialness of the night with us. And thank you for all the wine and gifts; I made the stupid mistake of separating everything from their cards and gift bags as soon as I opened it and now I can’t figure out who brought what. Oops!
And one more photo of the party aftermath … tonight’s recycling:
I find myself studying the five-day weather forecast with an intensity matched only by that of ten years ago, as I nervously planned my outdoor wedding. That day turned out to be way beyond what I would have happily accepted, with sunny skies and a high of 78, followed by a glorious sunset and an evening just chilly enough for women to have to wear the suit jackets of their dates as we danced under the stars. As of this particular moment, the forecast for this Saturday’s big celebration looks very similar: a high of 79 (a relief in this oppressively hot summer), dipping to the 60s as the night goes on. No jackets required this time though.
Oh, and speaking of attire (because I know from experience that this is an inevitable last minute issue for at least half of you), I am wearing a dress. Because it’s my party and I can wear what I want to. I do not care in the least what any of you wear, but we do intend to be outside for the vast majority of the evening.
If you haven’t RSVPed, it’s not too late. Well, it’s almost too late because the food and drink orders have been placed, but I’ll be kind and still let you come. I know Mark always likes to know what to expect in terms of food when we go to these things because he is not as easily satiated by finger foods as I am, but that’s what we’re having — don’t come hungry for a full meal, it’ll be more in the “heavy hors d’ouvres” category.
My boys will be most pleased when this event is over and done with because Mark and I have been heavily engaged in house cleaning and yard prep. I always feel guilty when I read those little sayings on people’s Facebook pages like, “Please pardon the mess, my kids are making memories” or “My children won’t remember the dust and clutter; they’ll remember the laughter and playtime.” Well, my kids will remember the clean house and the hard work it took to get there!
But we’re close to done and mostly just excited. And for those of you who are unable to come and said you’d drink a toast to us, we’ll be sure to drink one to you too, but it’ll have to be one collective toast to all of you at once or I’ll never make it through the night!
I know it’s redundant to ask people to “please RSVP” since si vous plait is right there in the request, but please RSVP. We’re making the final call on how much food and drink to order by this weekend so I need the most accurate count I can get. So far, we have 127 confirmed guests plus another 30 or so who are “stopping by.” And that’s with at least another hundred who are regrettably out of town, at weddings or with visiting guests. So, needless to say, it should be quite a shindig.
I’ve said this before but it bears repeating, this is a grown-up party. My kids and a few others will be here until about 9 or 9:30 and then are walking over to their friend’s house to crash. I know some people are planning to bring their kids, at least early, which is fine if that’s the only way you can come but just make sure they know that the evening is not designed with them in mind. I so don’t mean to be rude or exclusive or anything (I like kids, I promise!) but just don’t want anyone to be surprised or disappointed if their kids end up bored with all the grown-up talk and grown-up food. Just fair warning! Babes in arms are always welcome.
And, no you don’t need to bring anything. This is in large part a Thank You for all the love and support and food and gifts we’ve received in the five years since Austin’s first diagnosis. So, thank you, but we’ve got you covered!
We’ve been busily preparing the house and yard (although I cannot bear to weed my sunny — and absurdly overgrown — garden in this disgusting heat), so it’s mostly indoor tasks I’m completing. We are very excited and I wouldn’t have said that I was at all nervous except that I had a bizarre dream the other night where 1) All sorts of random guests showed up an hour early and I hadn’t yet gone out to get the food (why I thought I could wait until 6:30 the night of the party to get food is beyond me) and 2) I lost one of my front teeth right before the party started (a la Braedan) and was worried about all the toothless pictures of me that were going to appear on Facebook, so was trying not to smile! Ha. Maybe I am a bit nervous!
But if you RSVP, it’ll make me feel much better …
An addendum: If you’ve already let me know that you’re coming (or not) via email, text, Facebook or in person, consider yourself RSVPed and skip the Paperless Post site. I’m keeping a separate master list.
We’ve just spent two weeks in Chautauqua and the boys are now finally at an age where vacationing with them feels like, well, a vacation. Even when my husband is back in Cleveland.
They made some new friends up there who happen to live just two doors away and it was play, play, play from morning til night. I love that kind of freedom, reminiscent of the 70s and 80s (and surely earlier) where the kids can just wander off to knock on someone’s door: “Can Taylor and Amanda come out to play?” The unplanned, unstructured playdate is not dead, I assure you!
So much of being there feels like stepping back in time. From the rocking chairs on the front porches to the unique thrill of sparklers to the carnival-like amusement parks.
Remember these old school rides?
Of course, they’ve been modernized with the addition of a rock climbing wall:
We even got Braedan up on water skis, which brings me further back into my childhood. Hours and hours out on the boat, circling around as the latest water skier masters their craft. He was fabulous and so so proud of himself.
So, now I dig my way out from the piles of mail and laundry … and the stifling heat of Cleveland in July. With images like this in my mind: