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Friday, March 4, 2016

March Forth

Today is my birthday. March 4th. Or, as a writing teacher once pointed out to me, "the only day that's also a command."

March forth.

I've been absent from here a while.

This is the farthest I've ever felt from my cancer experience. Someone might think that’s obvious and stupid, akin to “this is the oldest I’ve ever been." But post-traumatic time is not linear.

It helps to have a new project, this time a joyful one. We bought a house in December. It's upstate, on 13 acres, with streams and woods and meadows and a pond. We're just there on the weekends (for now...) and working on fixing it up. For Christmas, my mom gave me bee hives.

There’s a little honeybee in my heart. She builds a sturdy comb, and fills it with sweet reserves.

Worker bees are all female, and what they are fed as babies determines if they can become queen. They say bees are unable to be selfish because they identify fully with their hive. They are part of their larger thing. It's as impossible for them to act in their own self-interest as it for... I'm trying to think of a human corollary but cannot.

March forth.

I think the distance finally rushed in when I realized, down to my marrow, that there would be no fixing me. That I will never go back to who I was, but that I could move forward all the same.

I hate when people ask me about the silver linings of getting cancer. I hate when it's assumed what didn't kill me has made me stronger, wiser, kinder. That now I am automatically grateful and serene.

Because events don't do that. People do that. People choose the meaning of the events of their lives, and then enact that meaning (or not).

I don't look for the silver lining, because that seems like a denial of my actual experience. A coping mechanism, but not one I really find useful. This event was extremely difficult. Through it, I learned a lot about myself. Lessons I probably would have learned anyway, with time, but I have learned them early.

But here's the lesson I learned that I want to share with you now, today: march forth. Don't delay.

"There will be time, there will be time." No.

Don't let your life be small. Don't wait for things to be perfect to begin. Don't let expectations guide you.

My entire life I’ve wanted to live on a farm. For the past several years I've search online for cabins and farmhouses. was a favorite, I would think, “when I'm retired this is what I’ll do.” I was willing to wait 40 years for the thing I wanted. Why? I don't even know.

In this last year, we made several trips to the Catskills, Vermont, rural PA. Each time I felt the pull of these landscapes more and more strongly. Till one day, I wondered, why do I need to wait?

Don't be afraid of what you want. Don't forestall joy. Take it when you find it. Don't be stupid and assume it will always be there, waiting. Because you will die, and I will die, and we all will die, and none of us knows when.

Don't put off kindness; this brings joy sweeter than any other.

Today, begin to march forth.

Note: This is my last post. Join me at Ruralie for something completely different.


  1. Emily, your blog's archives (and recent updates) have been a true and unvarnished comfort to me since I was diagnosed in August at 36. I'm a former Brooklynite, and now I live in a hundred year old stone house on farmland in NC. To say I relate to you & your story would be a tremendous understatement though we are strangers. Thank you AND congratulations. I can't wait to read along as you create your new home.

  2. Thank you so much for your kind words Lara. I'm so glad my grumblings have been helpful. How are you doing? What phase of treatment are you in? And most importantly, do you have a photo of the farm house??

  3. Anytime! I am doing great--on paper at least--currently no evidence of disease! I start radiation today--chemo finished in December and I had a great response to that and HER2+ drugs--so I lucked out with just a lumpectomy and 21 lymph node dissection in January. Now just living with scars, a foggy brain, furious gut flora, etc. Not looking forward to radiation. Just road weary in general. Glad you have some distance and cannot wait to be there myself.

    In brighter news, the house is here (request to follow me!): Front porch:

  4. Hi Emily,
    I hate it, too, when people assume there are silver linings to find from one's cancer experience. Maybe there, but maybe there aren't. And I'm pretty weary of the societal expectations regarding how we're supposed to do cancer and survivorship too. Congrats on buying that farm house of your dreams. Enjoy this special time fixing it up. And happy birthday! Onward, right?

  5. Happy Birthday to you! Wishing you many years in good health.

    I've always wanted to own a farm house. I've often asked myself what's stopping me, and one thing that comes to mind is my medical care. It is hard to walk away from anything cancer-related for me. But I love what you did, and congratulations by the way! I am looking forward to seeing pics when you're ready to post them.

    I too dislike the societal expectations and have given up on listening to anyone who suggests I should do this and that. That I should move on. I do my cancer and my life my own way but it is helpful to have reminders such as this one: to live today because life will not wait for us. Thank you. xoxo

  6. Happy Belated Birthday, I'll be following you over to Ruralie. It's going be be entertaining.

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