My hands shake a lot these days. Whether from chemo, meds, or sheer fatigue, my hands often betray the intensity of the fight taking place at cellular levels to kill off and overcome cancer.
In many ways, it seems fitting, really, that my hands are the telltale sign of the battle. To win requires choices on a daily – and sometimes moment-by-moment – basis of what I hold onto; what I let go of; and for how long. It is humbling – and sometimes humiliating – to acknowledge that my hands are simply not big or strong enough to hold it all. At least not all at the same time.
More than I care to admit, I find myself grasping and gripping, trying to hold all the bits and pieces of life in my hands without letting anything slip through my fingers. It’s a false illusion of control. As if my hands are ever really big or strong enough to keep a firm hold on all of life all at once. Yet this particular illusion I cling to seems particularly difficult to let go of.
These days, I find myself noticing the hands of so many others who are wrapping their hands around mine. Collectively – together – they are ensuring that I am held. Nothing that slips through my fingers is lost or forgotten. Their hands are there to catch it. Hold it. Hold me. It is the gift of us. An us defined by too many individuals for me to name separately. It’s a stunning and tangible investment into my life too extraordinary to put into words.
Countless friends have come alongside me – and my mom and sister who cook for my family and me on chemo weeks – to help with meals. They show up carrying Tupperware full of minestrone soup, chicken and dumplings, and chicken potpie. Incredulously, these gifts are often coupled with an apology that it’s just simple food. As if there is anything simple about nourishing both body and soul with a tangible expression of love.
On chemo weeks, my mom arrives with three days of casseroles, soup, and other dishes that conjure up simultaneous emotions of childhood comfort and present day gratitude. My sister, who is still fighting her own battle with breast cancer, also lends her hands to feed not only her own family, but mine. Love on a plate, as I describe it.
My friend Anne somehow knew my initial chemo treatments were nothing short of disastrous. When we met for dinner the last time I was in Washington D.C., she brought me a handmade bracelet with an angel charm which sways delicately when I wear it. When I returned to chemo, I instinctively grabbed for her bracelet to wear. It brings comfort and renewed determination as I spend my days at the hospital with her angel swaying to catch my attention, bringing me back to focus on those who are praying, supporting, and lending the strength of their hands to mine. Angels, indeed.
A few weeks later, I opened a package in the mail to discover a note from Anne. She had written it from her family cottage in Chincoteague. She described walking along the Atlantic and the sand she had carefully scooped up and placed in a tiny bottle – another addition for my bracelet. In it, she had tucked two Swarovski crystals. She described how turning the vial would make them play hide and seek. Such a perfect metaphor for life these days. There are always treasures to be found. Sometimes we just have to dig deep to find them. Or look for them as they unexpectedly wash up on life’s shore. I pictured Anne’s hands scooping up the sea and sand from her family home to share this treasure with me and was suddenly, profoundly, grateful.
My friend and colleague Nancy does not let a week pass without a note of encouragement arriving in my mailbox, or a vase of flowers delivered at my door to brighten my week. Despite a travel and work schedule that is worse than my own, she calls almost daily, usually beginning with something work-related but always ending with personal words of love, encouragement, and the assurance that I will come out on the other side. Her words remind me of truths I cannot see in the heat and weariness of this present battle. Her words bring me comfort in knowing my professional colleagues and personal friends are right there with me to help hold me together, whether with work projects or personal encouragement.
I could fill volumes describing the thoughtful acts that offer practical help and emotional strength. My friend Nicole arranged for a WNBA Mercury 2014 Championship ball cap bearing the signatures of the players to be delivered to me courtside while I attended a recent game. Something to help cover my bald head; something to remind me of her love and prayers.
And it would take pages to describe the countless ways my husband and family lend their hands on a daily – and often minute-by-minute – basis, to hold me together. Large and small pieces of life slip through my hands these days. Lorenzo and my children make sure they are caught and held. Every single one. Even when I am angry or sad. Even when I am too fatigued or ill to notice. Even on my good days when I am aware of and grateful for their hands, which never let go of mine.
I am held. Collectively. Figuratively. Literally. Call it faith. Community. Friendship. Family. I call it the wondrous, miraculous gift of us.