I know I should be finishing Part II of my post regarding the Timms family adventure in Chile, but today is a treatment day. I always feel introspective on treatment days, which means it´s a great day to add to my blog. So I hope you will allow me to indulge in a little perspective-sharing before finishing the story about my family´s trip.
It is a warm summer day here in Santiago and I am sitting at the little table in the corner of my hospital room typing away on my laptop and listening to some calming tunes on the Ipad. Jon is taking a nap on the much-too-small, pull-out couch, wearing his pink Team Eli T-shirt. Outside of my window is a nice view of the mountains, unfortunately, it´s a little/ (okay…. a LOT) smoggy today… so it´s a bit hard to make out their exact shape. However, I am extremely grateful for the sunshine. This morning was tough because I had to say goodbye to my best friend, Randi, who arrived at the beginning of the month. We had such an amazing week together and it really made me think about the things that are most important in life…: To laugh often and love much. There has been so much laughter and love this week that it still makes me teary eyed thinking about it. I remember mid-week, while Jon was out watering his new garden, that he actually came inside to tell me that he turned down his music because he was so happy to hear me laughing again. I guess I had been more depressed during my time between visitors than I thought… During her visit, Randi and I shared many, many laughs and also had some deep conversations about life, memories, hopes, dreams, and our biggest fears. It really helped me to reflect on what I´ve learned from my journey so far.
What I realized is that I´ve become a much more stable, happy, and healthier person. I know it sounds weird that having cancer would help bring you stability and happiness, but I truly think it has helped me to finally understand what is important in life and to cherish it. I used to be such a worrier, always wanting everything to be perfect. I stressed over little, inconsequential things. On the other hand, I also used to act irresponsibly in my attempt to forget the stress. My first marriage ended as a result of all that unhappiness and stress I was harboring inside. I was never happy with what I had achieved in life, but always compared myself to everyone else, hoping to be better at them at this or that. I was never satisfied with my job or my relationship or my friendships or my looks, when I should have been celebrating what an amazing life I DO have. I guess I just always wanted to make sure I made the right choices in life and achieve as much success as possible. Now I really just want to live life and enjoy it. And what a fabulous life I´ve been living these last few months! I feel kind of guilty about having time off to travel with my friends and family, but I have been given this opportunity and I definitely want to take advantage of it.
I still make appearances at school and am really excited about helping out with the school musical “Rock of Ages” next semester. It is definitely important to still feel connected to the community at Nido, even though I no longer have a classroom and someone else is teaching my classes. The community continues to be overwhelmingly supportive. This week I attended the athletic awards banquet and was greeted with many hugs, a few tears during my speech, and a message to “Stay Strong, Ms. Timms!” on the end of season video. After the banquet we moved up the track where a few high school students had organized an all-school event called Light Up the Night to raise money for cancer. The money will be used to buy airplane flights for me and Allyson Mills (another young teacher with thyroid cancer). The event was really beautiful and over 500 people attended. In case you´ve never heard of this event, teams of people purchase balloons filled with flashing lights and walk with them at night to support people with serious illnesses. At the Nido event several student bands performed, food was sold, and students were painting faces and just hanging out on the field. To see that many people (many of them complete strangers) gathered in one space, all in support of me, was a very humbling, terrifying, and truly wonderful experience. Honestly, at first I wanted to run away because everyone wanted to talk to me, hug me, ask how I was feeling, and I just really didn´t know what to say or how to handle it. But after I got my balloon and started to make my laps around the track I was able to find the appropriate answers to everyone´s questions and to ease a genuine smile back on my face. Walking with Randi and Jon definitely helped with that. I will never forget the way the night sky looked with all those balloons moving around the track and the sounds of the students having fun. I guess breathtaking would be a good word to describe it. To realize it was happening because I have cancer made it surreal. The love and support shown to me by so many people is yet another thing to cherish and remember for the rest of my life.
The other thing I have to be thankful for is my current state of health. Again, I know this sounds weird since I have stage four cancer, but I know it could be a lot, lot worse. I can hardly believe that it´s already my fourth chemo treatment and that I´m still going strong. Besides the scar and weird protrusion on my chest from the chemo port, the lack of hair on my head, and thinning eyebrows and eyelashes, I pretty much look the same. In fact, this week I had three different people ask me (jokingly?) if I really had cancer. Which I guess is a good sign, of course, since it means I must appear the same to them. Or maybe they were just impressed that a cancer patient was attending an open mike night event put on by the Nido faculty and actually performing on stage. Apparently my rendition of Hit me With Your Best Shot, was a real crowd-pleaser. I know it probably had more to do with my attitude than with my vocal abilities, but it was still fun to see everyone up on their feet dancing and singing along. Other frequent comments that night included, “Wow! You look so healthy!” I know this was meant as a compliment, but of course I have interpreted it as, “Wow! I can´t believe you haven´t lost any weight on chemo!” Me neither, folks… me neither. When I was first making my mental notes about the positive outcomes that may come from my treatment I thought, “Great! Maybe I´ll end up with curly hair, and hopefully I´ll actually lose some weight!” The weight loss is not happening though… I still have my appetite and honestly am so, so glad that I can still eat everything that I want to. I know that many other chemo patients would be very jealous of my ability to continue to maintain a superfluous calorie count. But still… you would think I´d be able to shed a few pounds, at least!
In general, my chemo side effect symptoms have been so minimal that sometimes I worry it is working at all. Jon has to remind me all the time what a good thing it is that I am still able to function quite normally, and of course he is right. Randi admitted that when she came down she thought I would be in much worse shape. She was so happy to be able to cook with me, climb hills in Santiago with me, visit vineyards with me, and attend karaoke nights in Irish pubs with me. And believe me, I am so happy that I was able to do those things with her. So I guess the perspective I´ve gained is the following: Yes, I have cancer, but I still have life, and I still have laughter, and I still have love. Thanks again, everyone:-)