Dreams Forsaken

Labor Day Weekend was bittersweet. Actually, it was damn hard. We had a staycation. We went to the Prospect Park Zoo. Mia surprised me with not just her willingness but her absolute delight at having the goats eat out of her hands — she was terrified when she last tried over a year ago. We went to the Natural History Museum where crazy Belle fell flat on her face and whacked herself in the head. It was like so many other weekends we’ve spent doing the fun, enriching things that you’re supposed to do when you live in the City. So why was it so damn hard?

Because, we weren’t supposed to be here. I wasn’t supposed to entertain Mia’s first natural questions about why so-and-so is old and why animals and people die, all while wondering whether my little baby would have to experience death so personally way too early in her young life. I wasn’t supposed to think about taking the vegetables out of the refrigerator hours before preparing dinner for fear of exacerbating the neuropathy in my hands. Josh and I weren’t supposed to weep uncontrollably into each other’s arms on a Sunday night over the prospect of him being without a wife and our children being without a mother.

Instead, we were supposed to be in our country house in the Hudson Valley, where my girls were supposed to run through the woods and learn to ride horses. Josh and I were supposed to sit on our front porch after the kids had gone to bed, inhaling the faint smell of cow manure from the farm down the road. We were supposed to be pregnant with our third child, and I was supposed to be dealing with the side effects of having precious life grow inside me, not the collateral damage from chemotherapy and a war to destroy the unwanted organisms that betrayed my body.

A year ago we spent Labor Day Weekend on Cape Cod, staying at a little house owned by friends of ours. We climbed through antique cars at the museum in Sandwich, MA, spotted whales and ate fancy ice cream. We had such a good time that we began to think more seriously than ever about buying a weekend / vacation house of our own. For years, Josh and I had struggled with the same question that so many other families struggle with — whether to stay in the City or make the move to the suburbs. We faced the classic dilemma between more space and cleanliness versus convenience, variety and diversity. We made a few trips out to various towns to house hunt but we could never get excited about the prospect. But having a second house — now that was the ultimate compromise, a way for us to have the best of both worlds. Mondays through Fridays, Josh and I could have our enviously short commutes to work and Mia and Belle could learn Spanish at an International Baccalaureate immersion school; on the weekends we could rejuvenate our souls in the serenity of the country. The decision felt so right and our dream so close at hand that we had accepted a counteroffer on a house and were about to sign the contract the day we received my diagnosis. In fact, even as Josh was faxing some paperwork to our real estate agent just days before at a Staples store near my parents’ house, i asked a cashier for a plastic bag, found a corner and vomited. That same lovely real estate agent called me the Monday after 4th of July with the intent of setting a date for the home inspection, and instead she listened to me hysterically crying from a hospital bed.

A year ago, I began thinking seriously about having a third child, and for the next nine months, I weighed the pros and cons. Would Josh and I survive a third child? How would we fit three kids into our 2.5 bedroom apartment? How would we manage the logistics of getting around the City with three children with strollers and subway stairs? Around the same time we decided to buy a second home, we decided (or rather I decided and Josh was persuaded) that a third child would be right for us. Josh and I both come from families of three children and that is what we consider “normal” and what feels like a family. Whatever pain we would have to endure with young children would pass and in the long term we would be grateful for all the chaos and love. I had it all planned out — I’d get one of those bunk beds with the full size bed on the bottom and I’d redesign the closet to facilitate more storage. Plus, the weekend house would afford us the space we needed. I’d begun shopping for an SUV big enough to accommodate three kids and two weekend house guests. The dreams were intertwined. Everything was coming together as they sometimes do so beautifully in life. All was perfect or as perfect as life can be for anyone.

My former secretary used to say to me, “We make plans and God laughs.” We often think we are entitled to have the life we dream of having, especially in a country as rich as ours. We’re entitled to find a mate and have children because that’s what most everyone does. We’re entitled to work hard if we so choose and buy second homes. We’re entitled to go to bed every evening confident that we will wake in the morning. We are entitled to breathe. But cancer has made me understand anew in a way I hadn’t before that I am entitled to nothing, that everything in life and life itself is a privilege.

The dream of that second house and of a third child to bring more joy to that house and our lives are now forsaken, destroyed by the cancer. In the beginning, I tried to resurrect the hope of having a third child by considering freezing my eggs to save them from the crippling effects of chemo. But the low viability rate for someone my age (35%) and the risk of delaying chemo to harvest those eggs simply made that option unworkable. Cancer won that battle. I know there are other houses and the possibility of having children other ways. I know there are many people who would do anything to be able to afford one house, much less two, and to have one child, much less three. I know all this. So please don’t think me ungrateful or a hoarder. I still had my dreams and now I must mourn their loss. I grieve especially for my unborn child who I will never see, hold or nurture, for the sibling my girls will never have the chance to love.

I look at the pictures people post on Facebook of them smiling at concerts and of kayaking down the river with their children. It hurts to look at those pictures, of seeing people living their lives, their plans and dreams still intact. I’m jealous and bitter. I wish I could go back to that place of innocence.

I’m done making plans and having dreams. I know that won’t always be the case. One day if I am fortunate enough to win my war against cancer — probably even as I’m fighting this war — I will have new plans and dreams, some of which may be derivative of this chapter in my life. In the beginning, they might be small, like going away for the weekend or buying a car or getting a goldfish or helping a fellow cancer fighter, and then later they might become big again, like adopting a dog or planning a trip to Disney World with the kids. But I’m not there yet. For now, I am bidding goodbye to my forsaken dreams and can only live one day at a time.



12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Katie
    Sep 03, 2013 @ 09:02:23

    Your blog entry came at the perfect time for me, as I dropped off my two girls for ther first day of school and as I head to my first day of a new job. We, too, are not supposed to be doing this today. I am supposed to be at the Embassy in Moscow, attending the Ambassador’s senior staff meeting. The girls should be at their swanky international school. I was director of the Departmeny of Energy office at the Embassy, on maternity leave in the US, when I received my stage 4 diagnosis two weeks before returning to Moscow. Needless to say we are not returning, and are scrambling to remake our lives here in the middle of my treatment. It has been extremely difficult. Your feelings mirror mine – I should be grateful for having lived my dreams even for a short while, but can’t help help feeling bitter an depressed about having my dreams crushed so abruptly. Somehow me must keep going, one foot in front of the other, if not for ourselves but for our husbands and children.


    • julielyyip
      Sep 03, 2013 @ 17:23:25

      Hi Katie. I’m sorry your dreams have been taken from you too. But I have faith that both you and I will in time find new dreams. In the meantime, we do just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and then one day we will turn around and marvel at the number of steps we took through our darkest hours.


  2. Lisa D.
    Sep 03, 2013 @ 09:29:59

    Julie, you are amazingly strong. You and your family are in my thoughts. As I read your writing, I often wonder if you have found Lisa B. Adams’ blog. She is a smart, practical woman and mother who has cancer, and I feel like her approach is kind of similar to yours and her words might provide you comfort, in a way. She is also a prolific twitterer.


  3. Maxine Jaramillo
    Sep 03, 2013 @ 12:20:17

    My dear Julie:

    How you are able to put your thoughts to paper in such a remarkable way leaves me both in tears and amazement. Right now you can only live day by day, but after you beat this battle, I think those dreams will reappear and become a reality. Tomorrow is the beginning of the Jewish New Year and I will say a prayer for you and for G-d to keep you strong and help you win this battle. I wish I could be closer to you and able to help you at this time, but you are in my thoughts all the time.


  4. Nesli
    Sep 03, 2013 @ 15:37:00

    Julie: your blog is beautifully written. You are a such a strong and inspiring woman. My thoughts are with you, Josh, Mia and Belle. I know that you will continue to fight this vicious disease and overcome the battle. This too shall pass and you will be ever the stronger from it.


  5. Rachel
    Sep 03, 2013 @ 22:40:19

    I came across your blog as I was looking for other treatment options on the colon club website. After a series of tests for what I thought was mild GI symptoms, they found that my liver was full of mets. This lead us on a crazy chase to find the primary cancer which was found in my colon. Everything happened within a couple of weeks and because the cancer had invaded my liver there was no time for a resection of the colon and I was sent right away for chemo (Folfox + avastin). I had my first treatment last Monday and am slowly regaining my strength to go in next Monday for #2. I am 40 years old and have two boys (7 & 9), I am in a loving relationship and had a thriving practice as a psychologist. I read your post (dreams forsaken) with tears running down my face. I could so relate to everything you said. I feel like I was finally exactly where I wanted to be in my life and had the rug pulled from right under my feet. I was so shocked to hear about this diagnosis. I love your attitude and feel very similarly on many things you said in your blog – I too refuse to see chemo as poison. I was told I would need to be on chemo “for the rest of my life” so I decided to call it my “insulin”. I am so determined to fight this beast with every bone in my body and do EVERYTHING I can do to help the chemo do what it needs to do. I have been meditating and using visualization everyday, I started juicing and now want to get back to the gym – I was so inspired to read that you had gone to spinning right before round #2 – I am not there yet but I plan on going to yoga before my next tx! Thank you for being such an inspiration! I will be around for a long time to see my children grow just like you!


    • julielyyip
      Sep 04, 2013 @ 16:20:24

      Thank you Rachel for reading and commenting. Im glad you can find some inspiration here. There’s so much to live for so stay strong and fight the beast! I’m behind you.


  6. Shan
    Sep 04, 2013 @ 16:01:08

    This is SO honest a post. I hope you spend some time mourning what you wanted and now can’t have. Dreaming big is not a thing of the past, Julie – just make it past this round, day by day.


  7. Ethan Klingsberg
    Sep 04, 2013 @ 17:07:43

    Thanks for the truth. Nothing more powerful, nothing more worthy of integrity, than what you are relating. Grateful for your ability to show honesty and living in the present are strength. Lots of love, Ethan


  8. Tanya Gee
    Sep 06, 2013 @ 16:18:58

    I think about you every day, Julie, and I visit your blog often to read and re-read your beautiful entries. I feel like you are a sister in combat, and I can’t wait to meet you in person when our battles are won. Fight on!


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