Caroline Wright with her sons, Henry and Theodore. Photos courtesy of Adair Rutledge.
The thing about terminal cancer is that sometimes you don’t feel sick.
“I feel, weirdly, completely healthy,” Caroline Wright of Seattle said, 6 months after receiving a diagnosis of glioblastoma, a very aggressive brain cancer, in February 2017.
Feeling Strangely Fine
“It’s very strange, and part of the reason I am so fascinated, on a daily basis, with the topic of my cancer,” Caroline said. “It’s not something being put in front of me all the time. I forget that I have terminal cancer.”
Just 32 years old, with a husband, two children under the age of 5, a thriving career as a food writer, editor cook and stylist, and fresh off a fully funded Kickstarter campaign to create a children’s book, Caroline had been experiencing headaches, fogginess, and disorientation for a few weeks before her diagnosis.
A week after an MRI revealed a mass, Caroline underwent surgery. A week after that, she was diagnosed with brain cancer.
Caroline’s CaringBridge website began with profound and prolific updates. “I needed a place to dump all this information, so people would stop calling and texting me,” Caroline said. “CaringBridge rose up to meet me.”
Tactical and Emotional
Caroline said the tenor of her Journal has naturally morphed from tactical details surrounding brain cancer surgery and treatment to a wide-ranging, soul-searching, emotional-but-not-self-pitying litany of topics. Such as …
- What it’s like to attend “Old Lady Yoga”(empowering)
- “Things I Don’t Give a S— About Anymore” (her eyebrows, the existence of the Kardashians, being thin, the tan she gets from her Keen shoes).
Living in the Super-Present
Glioblastoma patients generally are told they won’t live much longer than a year after diagnosis. But 6 months in, Caroline plans to surpass that, with no signs of her cancer present at this time.
“I am negotiating this very strange space, what it means to be a mom and a super-present and creative person who is always thinking about what’s next,” Caroline said. This is what led her to create another Kickstarter, this time to turn her CaringBridge posts into an heirloom-quality memoir for her children, family and friends.
“When it comes to the fact that I have two little children, my 4 year old, Henry, might remember me before my illness, but my Theodore won’t,” Caroline said. “In fact, he might not remember me at all. I’m writing all of this stuff so they know, if I do in fact die soon, that I fought like hell, that this is what it looked like, and what I was thinking … that I didn’t want to go.”
And she’s embracing a different view on talking about fear and death.
“There is this idea in our society that we can’t talk about fear and death without it looking like you are someone as giving up,” she said, describing writing her way through this as a “weird parenting loophole.”
Mom vs. Patient
“The mom thing to do is to plan if I die. How would my kids be taken care of emotionally? I’m doing what I can to participate in that. People have been giving me s— about that death part of it, but I don’t see there’s any other way to do it,” she said.
And of course, it’s not so much a conversation about death as it is about truly living.
“This doesn’t feel like dying, but rather my humanity,” she said. “The whole, full-fledged view as a mom and writer and person is being called upon and I’m getting this opportunity at this place to write it. I’m immortalizing it and documenting it, to pass it on to my kids.”
The Space in Between
And if she lives?
Caroline said, “I get to pull this book off the shelf and read it and think, ‘Man, that was so hard.’ Regardless, my kids will have this personal and intimate view of their mom during the craziest, scariest part of her life, and the part of my life, where I’m still negotiating the space between aggressive cancer and being realistic about what that could mean, but also being honest and creative in that space.”
When Caroline learned she had the mass, she called her Swiss brother, Jonas, for support. Crying and railing against “being this mom in a hospital gown,” Jonas offered a different perspective. “Jonas said, ‘You’re showing them what a superhero is like, what true bravery is, and you get to do that.’ It’s not a conscious thing, but it does flip everything on its head.”
Caroline is beginning to compile her CaringBridge posts into the book, but she plans to write through her first prognostic year, then begin production.
She has a small team in place to carry out her wishes, should she not survive to see the project through, and on her Kickstarter page, she outlined what she would approve of in terms of its sale or profit if the desire is there.
Regardless, her wise, honest words will be lovingly bound and covered, emblazoned on thick paper, enumerated with foil-stamping (for the limited edition), with the features book lovers appreciate—and that her sons will especially treasure, the heft of their mother’s well-lived life, in her own words.
Silver Linings Person
In the meantime, she is living with her characteristic buoyant outlook. Free of her usual cookbook deadlines, she’s experimenting with an anti-inflammatory diet in her kitchen, sourcing ingredients at the farmer’s market, writing daily, and spending time with her children.
“It’s a pretty beautiful place, and it’s a quiet, introspective place, and these structures [of family and friends and CaringBridge] have held me up to feel these things, which is great,” she said. “Crazy, scary, and great. I’m a silver linings person. I’m sort of an unstoppable person.”