I spent the hour fighting through tears and silence and awkwardness. When I checked out, the receptionist asked if I would like to schedule my next appointment, six months from now. I froze. I didn't know much about my diagnosis, but I knew enough from the glimpses of terror in my mom’s voice to know that things did not look good. That there might not be a six months from now.
Today, I got a reminder that my dentist appointment is on 05/28, six days from now. 05/28 also happens to be the birthday of one of my very best childhood friends who passed away in a tragic hiking accident. I made 05/28 the password on my phone as a daily reminder to myself to live my days as fully as she did. I couldn’t help but marvel at that coincidence and reflect on how much has permanently changed. So much can happen in an instant, yet the world keeps turning and everything’s the same. It still rains on days you want it to be sunny and is sunny on days you want it to rain. There is still life, death, taxes, and the dentist.
I haven’t written much about this whole experience, but lately I started to write a letter to myself, to the Maya who stood in line at reception wondering if she should make her next appointment, from the Maya now.
In it, I talk a lot about odds. The odds of getting into Stanford. The odds of getting a job at Google. The odds of getting stage 4 ovarian cancer as a perfectly healthy 28-year-old. With 0/20,000 cancer genes. With parents, an uncle, and a sister, as doctors.
What I conclude from these head-scratching odds is this: life is going to be short for everyone, no matter how long it is. And while we walk the planet, the only thing any of us has is our ability to extract meaning from experience.
What I have taken away from this experience is:
1. That life is a sport, best played as a team. And my team fucking rules. My parents are the most phenomenal souls I know. My sister is my hero. My friends and family are who you want by your side in a boxing match, in an ER, or in bed on a lazy Friday after chemo. Soulmates come in all shapes and forms if we let them. They can even come as dogs.
2. That you should write down 3 things you are grateful for each day. Especially on the days you feel like you have nothing to be grateful for. The last entry I wrote in the gratitude journal that sits by my desk reads, “getting to start chemo tomorrow.” Tonight, I will write “getting to finish chemo tomorrow.”
3. That you should be kind to strangers and generous to the world. You can learn a lot from your neighbors. Even if they are 82, they can become your friends.
4. That in the face of the unknown, the only way through is one breath and one day at a time. One song at a time can work, too (thank you Rachel Platten, thank you Lupe, thank you GRiZ.)
5. That with all my unexplainable odds, I am no more, or less, special than anyone else.
Throughout this journey, I have held mantras sacred. My dad shared one a while ago that I use often — relax, trust, go downstream. He also taught me a very important one, “I am not attached to the outcome. No matter what happens, I will handle it.”
I do not know the outcome of tomorrow. Or the next six months. I pray it is the end of treatment for me. But it may not be. What I do know is that I will go to the dentist next week. And I have never been more excited for a dentist appointment. That horribly mundane, dreaded experience has now become a chance to celebrate that I’m here and a chance to remember everyone I love.
I end my letter to Maya-At-The Dentist saying this:
Your experience has been an extraordinary one. Let it undo you. Let it break you and make you whole again. Walk away from it bigger, brighter and filled with what you need to live like your soul is on fire.
That is how you live a vibrant life in the face of death, darling. You stare it down and blind it with compassion and laughter and love and human connection. You defeat it with the conviction to make it better.
I would not be here, able to have any conviction, without you -- my team in the arena, on the bench, and in the stands far away. For the unwavering messages of love and support, for “being there” in every sense of the term -- thank you. Thank you thank you thank you. I cannot say it enough.
I hope someday I can find a way to repay the amount of generosity I’ve received back into the world but, in the meantime, I hope you can find a way to look forward to your next trip to the dentist.
With love and appreciation,
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