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Yesterday was an anniversary I will never manage to overlook: nine years since I married someone who is pretty much the best guy in the universe.

Over the weekend at my reunion, I spoke with a couple different people who made comments like, “I don’t know how you did what you were able to do,” or “I never would have had the strength to handle childhood cancer like that.” I’ve heard these things before, since the very beginning of our journey four years ago. And I have continually insisted that I don’t believe them. I think that most of us have a well of strength deep within that rises to the top only when needed.  None of us walks around with our full force on display, in an I-can-handle-anything-that’s-thrown-at-me kind of way. But we step up when needed, taking the worst of life and making it through. Because we have no other choice.

But I will admit that I do have something unique, one extra benefit that made handling such a massive trauma many times easier. And that is Mark. Having a steady partner by my side, one who never kept score (how many hours have I spent at the hospital versus how many hours have you), one who reminded me, without judgment, to focus on Braedan when necessary, one who was quietly realistic, forcing me to look at ugly truths while holding an acceptable amount of hope at the same time, … it made all the difference. There is no way I could have done this without him. And I’m not just saying there’s no way I could have done this alone; that’s obvious. But Mark is not interchangeable with any other good-enough husband. There is no way I could have done this without Mark.

Of all the strength I showed, and continue to show as the public face of Austin’s sickness, only half is mine. The other half was handed to me by the man I love most.

Happy nine years, honey. May the next nine be a heck of a lot easier.

I was awakened Friday morning at 6:23 by the robocall from our school district announcing the fifth of our five allowed Calamity Days, for another seemingly-out-of-the-blue overnight snowstorm. When I logged on to Facebook to publicly announce my distress at yet another day cooped up with the kids when I thought I might actually get something done (because that’s what we do with our distress these days), I discovered that my “calamity” paled in comparison to what was happening in the rest of the world.

After watching the computer and TV spew forth new images of death and destruction all day, I was struck my how small we all are in the face of, well, in the face of death and destruction. And yet, how strong and powerful we can be at the very same time. That night, Mark and I rented 127 Hours, the positively stunning true story of hiker Aron Ralston. The next night, we watched Charlotte’s Web with the boys. I know it seems strange to lump these disparate subjects into one narrative, but they seemed to come together in a jumbled and sad and beautiful way. A way that reminds us to appreciate all that we have. To notice how much each small thing matters. The tiny miracle that is the spider spinning its web. The child who believes she can make a difference by fighting for what is just. The strength found deep deep within, when no other strength is left, to cut off one’s own arm.  Out of a simple and sheer and unstoppable desire to live.

Having seen and experienced suffering in the up close and personal way that we have over the past three years gives me an unshakable and indescribable affinity with the suffering of others. I’m not saying I’ve been there, because our suffering is minor compared to that of many, but I do feel like I can recognize it, like I get it.

Of all the images coming out of Japan right now, the ones that show piles of cars and trains and airplanes, or crushed houses, or huge roiling waves of debris, are all breathtaking. And yet, none of them are quite so moving as those of the toddler standing alone crying for its mother, or the four-year-old stoically being tested for radiation by a masked man, or loved ones desperately searching the lists of names taped to the walls.

The moments big and small, personal and national in scale all converge together in one great picture of humanity. The suffering one small boy in a hospital bed, the suffering one young man trapped by a boulder. The suffering of a neighborhood, a state, a nation, a world. And the beauty and strength and grace of all those fighting to move beyond it. To survive one more day.

There is no brilliant new wisdom for me to impart except this: Calamity days or not, we hold ours tight. Hold yours tight too.

So, what is the purpose behind wanting to publish this book?  Naturally, it’s to achieve great fame and fortune. Wait . . . what? What’s that you say? I’d be better off joining the cast of the next big reality TV show?  Real Cancer Moms Versus Real Housewives?

Truth be told, I never sat down at my computer and said, “Wow, that was really something; I should write a book about it.” The writing just happened. In a day-to-day and moment-by-moment kind of way. It was necessary, first to share the actual information but ultimately for me to grapple with all that had befallen us.

Now I know that “therapy writing,” while helpful to the individual, does not necessarily produce great literature. And I know that my story, Austin’s story, is not unique in the world of pediatric cancer. Countless families go through all the same drama that we did every single day. Lots and lots of people have stunning and sometimes tragic and sometimes miracluous things that happen to them (and some of us have all three). And not all those people should write books. The conventional wisdom about memoir is that it has to be both a fascinating story and well written. And I do believe this achieves that.

I love to read. Mostly fiction but also memoir and narrative non-fiction. I know exactly my kind of book — and I bet some of you will agree wholeheartedly, nodding your head at every title listed below, while others of you think, “Um, really?” I like The Time Traveler’s Wife and Bel Canto, Help and all of Wally Lamb. The Red Tent, The Secret Life of Bees and Water for Elephants (all classic Oprah fare). The very best books I’ve ever read, although by far the most disturbing, are Fall On Your Knees and The Way The Crow Flies, both by Anne-Marie McDonald. I like memoir: The Middle Place, A Long Way Gone, Always Running (a great LA gang story that I read while teaching in Compton), Eat Pray Love. I like narrative non-fiction (still has to feel like a story) like Three Cups of Tea and (my current) The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I love to read.

And I have to tell you (and I don’t mean to sound like I think I’m the best thing since sliced bread) but when I read through some of my pages, I sit back and say, “Damn, that is good.” I love it. I want to read more (and I know exactly what’s going to happen!). So I guess in part I want to publish this book simply because I think readers like me will really like it.

But obviously there are themes — and therefore messages — underlying all I write: a sense of strength and hope and conviction; carrying on even when you can’t see the end; finding and truly appreciating all the good that lies amidst all the bad. It’s about the ordinary, about the small moments of life that make it beautiful. I think there is a clear message to be learned by what we’ve been through — that you are stronger than you think you are, that hope is stronger than you think it is, that love and family trump all.  And that laughter helps.

It’s not just a cancer story. It’s a mothering story and a parenting story and a love story. A great big public declaration of  a mother’s love for her sick son, her healthy son, her husband, the family, friends, doctors, nurses and wide community that sustains one family through its darkest hours.

Wanna read it?

On July 31, 2007, our very first night on the pediatric oncology floor, our pediatrician came to visit with me and Mark to help prepare us for what lay ahead. He described the journey we were about to embark on as a marathon, one we had not trained for (except that we’d been training since the moment we became parents), one we didn’t sign up for, but one we had to run nonetheless.

I know a thing or two about running, having completed four full marathons and countless half marathons, including Cleveland’s half this morning. I know that no matter how well-trained you are, there is always something beyond your control, some seemingly small sore spot that can cripple your run. I know that no matter who you train with or start out with or chat with along the way, the race is yours alone and no one else can take a single step for you. I know that you have moments when you feel completely unprepared, cowed by the hill in front of you or the almost endless stretch of road still to come, when you wonder what you got yourself into and how you’ll ever get yourself out of it. And I know you have moments when you feel strong, on a slight downhill, wind at your back, like you can fly, like you can do anything.

Without question, this cancer journey has been our marathon. There’ve been twists and turns we never anticipated, there have been steady even stretches where we get into such a groove we almost forget what we’re up against. There’ve been steep uphills where continuing seemed impossible and bursts of speed to push us forward. And there’ve been fans.

Race fans may not know their impact (and judging by today’s strangely quiet crowds, they may not know how much they’re needed). But fans are a completely necessary component of a long race. Perfect strangers calling out your name and urging you onward, giving you strength and hope and courage, make a huge difference. As do the “fans” we’ve acquired along this journey. You may at times watch silently from the sidelines but we see you there and we know that when you’re really needed, you’ll speak up and cheer us on, reminding us of the strength we already have inside.

This race of ours is certainly not over. We’re due for five days of chemo starting this Thursday, pending the enormously consequential results of tomorrow’s GFR (kidney function test). And then three more rounds of chemo after that, with an estimated finish in early August. We’re more than halfway, which is a huge accomplishment, but just like in full marathons, that last half is always harder than you think.

We’re a little beat down, muscles sore and tired from overuse, chasing an ever-moving finish line. But we’ve been training for years now and we’ve learned an awful lot, and oh I do love to run, so we set our sights a little farther down the road and we dig a little deeper and we let the cheers of our fans lift us forward. And we know that we will finish strong.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering: 1h52m. Strong enough.

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