Monday, June 4, 2012

An Army of Love

There comes a time in every life when we are called to a role we didn't anticipate: caretaker, support system, guidance counselor, guardian, etc.  Although it may not be easy and our tasks are not immediately understood, most of the time, human nature compels us to act swiftly and with courage.  This is what I have come to call my "Army of Love".  Most of my friends and family didn't realize they would be called up to serve, but when my diagnosis of cancer was announced, most rose to the challenge.

Certainly, it can be expected that during times of hardship, you can lean on friends and family.  These are the people we count on for phone calls, mind distractions and hugs. But the needs of the army are unique and demanding.  My Army has to be strong when I am weak; they need to be positive when I am negative; they need to be encouraging when I am discouraged; and they need to tell me to keep going when I feel like throwing in the towel.

The past fourteen months have been the most challenging of my life.  I wish I could say I faced every obstacle with grace instead of fighting a few of them along the way.  My husband has done his fair share of negotiating with me, when truly, living my best healthy life should be enough of a bargaining tool.  My family has given up a lot of weekends, vacation days and personal time to take care of me.  They've had to change bandages, run out for last minute prescriptions, pick and drop kids off, make many meals and spent countless sleepless nights with Evan...and at times, with me.

Most close friends have listened to me tirelessly talk about my hair.  They have heard me express paranoia about my port and discomfort with my expanders.  My Army has watched me grieve and try to accept not having any more kids.  There have been endless amounts of wine, gifts, notes, cards and flowers that my Army has sent to brighten up my day and make me remember I am not alone.

But the toughest thing about being an Army member?  Their struggles and challenges don't stop just because mine seem big.  And that is what hurts my heart.  Sometimes my Army feels like they can't talk to me because I've had a tough day.  But, I'm part of the same army and I know there is no person left behind.  While my year has been full of challenges, some of my Army members have suffered losses of loved ones, miscarriages, infertility, break-ups, divorces, job loss, financial hardship, physical ailments and other various forms of devastation.  My challenges aren't bigger or better than anyone else's.  They don't trump others pain.

Imagine my surprise when my Army showed up in force this past weekend.  I was amazed and utterly delighted to find my family and friends piled in my living room on Saturday night to celebrate my 31st birthday.  I spent my 30th birthday in the chemo chair for 7 hours - most of it pouting - and feeling badly that I was in the chemo chair.  So my Army made it up this year, three weeks before my birthday.  It was a celebration of fighting and work and making it through another year.  I don't live very close to my family and friends; many of them drove over two hours to celebrate and then drive back home.  But I was honored that they put their lives aside to come support me, once again.

I am surrounded by an Army of Love.  I know that in my darkest days, I can reach out and find someone to talk to. My Army has surrounded me, lifted me up and walked by me when I've needed them the most. And I'm ready to be a part of everyone else's Army.  I have experienced these circumstances so I can help be there for others.  I know how to listen and grieve and support.  But as I saw the smiling faces standing before me this weekend, I realized that when I stumble, and I know I will, there is a lot of love and faith to help lift me up.

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