My response to most conflict has always been more flight than fight, or, more accurately, a kind of stoic forbearance. So during our 16 months of cancer treatments I pulled inward and clung to our small family. I sought to slow time by paying careful attention to our moments together as they passed, and I let most other concerns go. This last part wasn’t difficult — life-or-death predicaments tend to sharpen one’s attention.
JESSICA Maybe it’s the Jersey girl in me, but I was all “fight” when it came to our cancers. When the oncology surgeon was laying out my options, I stopped her and said: “I have a 2-year-old daughter. I need to do everything I can to stay alive for her.” I chose the most aggressive treatment: a double mastectomy with an innovative one-stage breast reconstruction, followed by intensive chemotherapy and radiation.
My plan was to explore every “cancer hack” out there, so that I could stay as healthy as possible during treatment and, hopefully, shield our daughter from the worst. I gathered information from anybody who was willing to talk to me and felt such gratitude that complete strangers would drop everything to share the most private details of their stories. I tried everything, including cooling caps (head covers designed to reduce hair loss), frozen mittens and bootees to prevent neuropathy, twice-weekly acupuncture and boatloads of supplements. And, as if miraculously, the hacks all worked. Our daughter, Bebe, never knew I was sick, so she was never afraid. She still thinks these perky boobs are all mine.
When I receive calls from women who have just been diagnosed, I stop everything to talk to them. I always share with them something that was said to me when I was in the depths of my chemo treatment: When this is all over, you will actually be happier than before. It sounds unbelievable, but it’s been true for me. I know what matters now: the people I love. So I spend as much time as I can expressing that love and letting myself receive love in return.
DAN The pandemic has stirred up some troubling memories of “chemo quarantine” for both of us. Habit and ritual — to say nothing of magical thinking — helped me a lot during that time. Despite my nightly panic and dread, I would pull open our bedroom curtains each morning, speaking to myself softly, like a mantra, “You’re going to live, you’re going to live.” I feel some measure of that same doggedness these mornings now, as I throw wide the same curtains to our current uncertainties.