Last week, I packed my chemo bag for the last time. I called it my carry-on. My infusion takes the same amount of time as a transatlantic flight. At the end of those long days, there was no crackling announcement by a flight attendant to stow laptops and raise tray tables– no welcome to Paris or London or Rome– but there was a sense with each round that I was one step closer to that being possible for us again.
When I packed my “carry-on bag” every 21 days, I did not fly alone. The quilt that kept me warm was made by a dear friend. Ben, my favorite traveling (through life) companion, was next to me every minute of every hour of every session. We talked. He read or worked. Even though my carry-on included a charged Kindle, AirPods, and a good playlist/podcast mix, I usually used the time to be quiet and reflect. The time passed– just like it does on a plane.
The nurses moved in and out like angels. My doctor and nurse practitioner encouraged me and kept me informed. The nurse navigator kept me on track. We were surrounded by people no one could see: the pop-up compassionate community that surrounds Ben and me.
When I was first diagnosed, a friend said, “You have given a lot; now you are going to learn to receive.”
In the days, weeks, and months since then, her words have stayed with me. Now that I am a student of receiving, I have learned more about its reciprocal process: the art of giving.
I’ve learned that gifts are not weighted. A generous impulse is just right, and kindness is never wasted. People act and stone soup grace transforms every action into bounty. I’ve learned that when we show up, we are not the only ones showing up. We all show up in different ways: a quick game of cards, a meal, a book, a movie recommendation, a conversation, ice cream, flowers, granola, colored pencils, or a link to an article or a song from Spotify. People show up through their cards, texts, emails, Facebook messages, and prayers across three faith traditions. They show up with tangible gifts of beauty and comfort. People show up, figuratively and literally, to walk with me.
The gift is always just right, strengthening a safety net wrought of glorious and shimmering threads of grace. The fibers are made strong with every generous move, tiny or big.
When I went for my first chemo infusion, I heard someone ringing a bell. “That will be you before you know it,” said the nurse. She then explained that the bell was rung at the end of the final round of chemo. The nurse was right. Suddenly I was done, and it was my turn. The nurses applauded as I rang the bell; I rang it loud. I rang it for me. I rang it for Ben. I rang it with gratitude for the doctors and nurses. I rang it for all the love and support from our family and friends that got us to this point in treatment. I rang it for the women that entered the trial that became a cure in 2005. This was the first part of the treatment. There are more phases. But I think this was the worst part.
I am astonished when people say, “I wish I could do more.” Because now I know the secret. Every stitch and stir, every meal, and every encouraging word is a prayer. Even the tiniest act of kindness is a pretty big deal.