February 2, 2011

Even If It Kills Me, I'm Gonna Smile

Dear Mom,

When I was driving home the other day down a quiet, white, wintery road, I watched one single leaf float down out of nowhere and slide across my windshield. Knowing all the trees on that street have been bare since early December, it practically took my breath away. It was beautiful, simple, and elegant. It reminded me of you. I smiled.

Yesterday morning I wanted to do something really wild and crazy, so I reached in my jewelry box for a bracelet to complete my typical plain Jane work outfit. I found a silver one with a heart charm dangling from it that I didn't recognize. It fit my puny wrist perfectly. That never happens. As I admired it, I noticed a smaller heart beside it that was engraved with just one letter, B. Barbara. It was yours. I smiled.

Lately, I find that I'm weeping less and smiling more. It's a relief. Although, when I do cry, it's from that place so deep inside myself where the pain of losing you still lingers. It's relentless. It's messy. It's heartbreaking. It happened last night.

I was watching The Biggest Loser, but my mind was somewhere else, all because I suddenly had a small pain in my lower abdomen. My thoughts went into overdrive. Is it cancer? Am I dying? But I'm too young to die. Is it my ovaries? Do I have ovarian cancer like you? Should I get them removed just to be safe and not have kids? I think I can live without kids. I could always adopt. But your kids were your life's biggest accomplishment. What if I never feel accomplished? What if I die without achieving anything? Wait, what if I die, period? I don't want to die. I should go to the doctor's again.

I go through this daily. A pain in my armpit? Must be cancer. An ache in my abdomen? Oh, that's definitely cancer. The headache that I had for the entire day? Well, now that's a sign of malaria. Maybe I caught malaria in Belize. How quickly does malaria kill you? Maybe I should call my doctor again.

It. Never. Ends. I hate my mind. I just want to shut it off and be the naive girl I've never known before. For the past few days, I have been thinking about whether or not I should find out if I'm a carrier of the BRCA gene mutation, so that I can be prepared. But how much more prepared can I make myself?! I see my doctor for every ache and pain. I keep up with my annual appointments. I've done my research. I know the symptoms. I'm going crazy already acting like I have it. I just can't put myself through knowing for sure. I'm not strong enough to know. I can barely get by with my thoughts as it is.

As soon as a commercial came on, I started crying. Through my sobs, I managed to tell my friend I've felt obsessed with my health since you got sick over five years ago. Every day, I'm worrying about cancer, and other illnesses, and dying. I can't stop thinking about it. I can't stop wondering when my day will come; when the end will come.

"But that day won't be the end of your life," he reminded me, and my tears slowed. "Your time here is just a part of your life. So just live, and stop worrying about everything else." As our conversation continued, the weight that I've been carrying silently on my own for years slowly lifted.

He asked me why I'm afraid of dying, and when I actually thought about it, the truth is, I don't really know why. Everyone makes it seem like the worst thing in the whole world, and I never stopped to question if they were right or not. But... you did it. You died. And I know that's a odd scenerio to have an 'if you can do it, I can do it too' kind of attitude about, but it comforts me in the weirdest way. I decided, in that moment, that I need to stop living this life of fear. And when a day comes where I can't get it out of my head, I need to reach out to someone. Who knows, it might just change my outlook on life (and death) in the most positive ways, like it did last night.

"And remember, everyone dies."
"Wait... Is that supposed to make me feel better?"

After an awkward silence, we burst into laughter. I wiped my tears as The Biggest Loser came back from commercial, took a deep breath, and again, I smiled.

You are my strength,


  1. I do the EXACT same thing! Except I live in fear of having a heart attack (like my Dad) or just not waking up again (like my Mom). I've had a full heart workup and several EKGs 9just to rest my mind). Every little 'pain' or discomfort in my chest, arms, neck, shoulders...I take strong notice of and wonder if it's an early sign. When I lay down at night I worry about not waking up again..am I ready? I don't want my kids (age 24 and 26) to go through the loss of me - GOD it's so painful! In the end I know that a heart attack will take me out - it's in my family history...the ONLY thing there - I'm trying to learn to live again before that happens.

  2. Sami, Sami, Sami,

    I completely understand your worries here. It's so disconcerning to go through this EVERYDAY. It's unrelenting. I wake up, I feel pain and I think, "Is it getting worse? Did it spread? Is today 'the day'?" Just truly terrible stuff. I do the same thing with headaches. And having kids? Oh my goodness, the worry NEVER ends there. I want nothing more in the world. But I worry myself sick about that too. Not good.

    Just know that you have already accomplished so much in the time you have been here... and you have made people like me feel a lot less worried about what could be happening. You've got this girly. I love the little things that you stumbled across. They're my favorites. And don't forget... Keep smiling. :-)

  3. Oh Sami! Your John is wise beyond his years. Is it really death that you are afraid of or the life you have yet to live? The reality for me is the pain for those left behind. I have tears in my eyes as I read this post. I am at a loss for words.

  4. I think everyone touched by illness develops an irrational radar, assessing every ache and pain, thinking the worst. I used to do that a lot. But over time, I've managed to let go a little bit so I could live a happier life. That doesn't mean I don't fret, I just don't do it as much.

    And John is wise! Thank God you talked to him. Sometimes just verbalizing our fears lessens their hold on us.

    Just remember, even a diagnosis isn't a death sentence. Facing the fear of death can be very liberating.

  5. Sami, I think this might be my favorite post so far! Wait, have I said that before, and before that? Your honest writing continues to touch and amaze me. Like Chez said, your John is a very wise man!! Impressive he knew what to say at that moment. It's simple, cancer messes with your mind. Your cancer or the cancer of someone you love, it doesn't matter. Those "crazy" thoughts you've been having are normal and understandable. And the leaf story, just lovely. Thanks again for sharing your ups and downs with the rest of us.

  6. Thank you for your comments everyone!

    Renee- thank you for making me feel not so crazy! I can't imagine what it was like to lose both your parents so close together... but I hope in time you are able to make the most of your life like they did. I am trying to remind myself that either way, I'm gonna go, so I might as well make the best of it while I can.


    Thanks Carly :-) You always know just what to say to make me feel better without even trying. I know we share similar fears, so thank you for taking the time to ease my worries. And I knew you'd appreciate those 'little moments' of mine in return!


    Chez, I think my fear isn't the act of dying itself... but it is the fear of leaving behind my dad and brother, and not even starting a family of my own yet. Or getting married. Or even feeling what it's like to carry a little baby inside me. I want to live and experience those things. And the irony is that once I have all those things, the fear of leaving THAT life will be even more magnified!

  7. Tina, thank you for addressing that your same fears have lifted over time. That's what I hope continues with mine. And you're completely right-- every diagnosis is NOT a death sentence. It's just hard for me not to jump to conclusions after the loss of my mom. That's why it's so important to me to have friends like you all because you remind me that people can and DO live through a diagnosis. You're an inspiration to me :-)


    Nancy, I'm so happy you loved it! And my other posts too! You're always so supportive and encouraging. I hope I have many more 'leaf' stories in my future :-)