A couple of weeks ago, my 5 year old was perfecting his spinjitzu (a specialized Lego Ninjago™ move for those of you not in the know) after lunch at preschool when things took a turn for the worse. Not that this is a cause for surprise since he was launching himself from a platform 2.5 feet above the ground while, you guessed it, spinning. He was in pronounced discomfort throughout the afternoon but insisted he didn’t need to see a doctor. By the time he acquiesced later in the day it was already too late for an appointment, although we did go in the next morning to have x-rays done. Sure enough, the diagnosis was a fracture at the base of the first metatarsal of his left foot (this would be partway back from the big toe to the heel).
The bone should heal within 4-6 weeks, and in the meantime our wounded martial arts wannabe gets to sport one fantastically phosphorescent cast. This has led to endless educational opportunities for glow-in-the-dark experiments at bedtime. During daylight hours, however, the cast has derailed his customarily active lifestyle. At first, he was in enough pain to relegate himself to continual bed or couch rest, calling for us when he needed assistance to get food or use the bathroom. Over the course of a few days, the pain subsided and he gradually regained mobility first via a walker and then with the walking poles I used while recovering from reconstruction surgery. By the next week, he was ready to test out his new cast at school.
He is typically a man of the sandbox and a normal day at the office often results in his returning home with, conservatively, a quarter cup of sand in each of his boots. Connecting the dots, I gently but urgently warned him to avoid all sand and water. Sand in his cast would feel and act like sandpaper on his skin and a soggy cast would quickly take on the charm of a perpetually wet dog. He promised to investigate the wonders of indoor activities.
On his first day back, my wounded soldier tentatively made his way to the school yard supported by walking poles and was greeted by his classmates like a returning war hero. They congregated near the front gate and made their way en masse down a sidewalk and across a grassy hill. As he regaled his peers with gory tales from the casting room, the crowd moved back towards the sandy play area. My son dutifully toed the edge while his friends resumed digging in the sand with shovels. So far, so good.
Last Friday, I observed my one year anniversary of having cancer. In truth, considering the size and extent of the DCIS, it was apparent that I had been unwittingly living with cancer for quite some time prior to diagnosis. Picking up my cell phone on 4/27/11 to learn the result of the biopsy served as my own personal Rubicon. Hoping for the best but preparing for the more likely outcome, I mentally steeled myself to cross over from my previous normal life into the world of cancer patient and survivor. All too quickly, I was immersed in the minutiae of diagnosis and treatment. Over the course of several months, I fought steadily for mental and physical dominance over this insidious foe. I, too, toed the edge of normal life while others dug into their own sandboxes with carefree gusto.
My son’s return to playground glory was not immediate. That first day back was followed directly by a rest day at home. And then a day at school was followed by another day at home. Now two weeks later, he of glowing foot has adapted to the point of forgetting his shortcoming. We have learned to protect his cast with one of his father’s socks and then with a sturdy plastic bag before heading to school. He is free once again to create sand volcanoes and runs through the playground almost as quickly as in months past. He has become so used to his new normal that we have to remind him of logical limitations, e.g., perhaps it’s best to not leap from couch to couch when wearing a cast.
One year later, I have become accustomed to my own new normal. A glance at the archives list on the right side of this page shows a dramatic decrease in the number of posts per month. I write less frequently simply because cancer has for the most part retreated to the back of conscious thought. These days, I am drawn back into the world of disease primarily on demand — for treatment and monitoring. When I see myself in the mirror, I no longer flinch but acknowledge that although the battle scars are fading minimally, the new me isn’t so bad. When I learn of another’s diagnosis, I no longer offer mere sympathy because I can now reach into a well of experience and provide heartfelt empathy. War-weariness a receding memory, I am a little wiser and, ironically, a lot stronger. Life goes on.
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