Another one is coming. An unbidden reminder, in this case, it's October: Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In the beginning, you worry that you'll start to forget, that she'll slip into obscurity, like so many details from the past. Then, you remember, and not just on the "Big Days" like birthday, anniversary, day of death... but so many other days.
I know I'll never forget her. Not that I'd want to, for you see, she was the love of my life. Ellicia and I had been married less than a year when I was sent to Afghanistan. Like all soldiers and families of soldiers, you assume the danger -- the threat -- is in the war zone. Home is safe. It's supposed to be.
We received the news on our daughter's birthday (and yes, that's become a temporal landmark, too). Cancer had reached us. It was serious enough to bring me home. What they didn't tell us was that she was expected to live only four weeks. And since we didn't know any better, we fought against the cancer. She lived another year, before passing away on New Year's Eve.
I always thought that fighting cancer was the hard part. The day before she died, my wife in a flash of prescient wisdom, told me, "I have the easy part. All I have to do is die; you have to keep on living." How right she was!
This New Year's will mark five years. In that time, her absence has been felt with every landmark: holidays, birthdays, our anniversary, New Year's Eve... but more so on the unexpected times -- when the kids do something great ("Hey, do you see this award?"), when they're bad ("Suuuurrre, take the easy way out...do you see what your son did?!"), and times when I just miss talking to her and sharing the day.
One of the biggest challenges after she died has been finding a new focus. Fighting her cancer, taking care of her, caring for the family had been an all-consuming task. After...well, there was such a feeling of "What now?" It was like she said, keeping on living was hard.
And then, I realized it! The fight wasn't over. Yes, we'd lost her, but there was a much larger fight. Cancer itself. I started to look for a new focus for my efforts. I came across the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. And then I saw they had a walk in Washington, D.C. It was one of our favorite places to visit, and we'd spent ten days there when we'd thought it was in remission. It was also where we were when it came back, and we knew that time was limited. And the next walk would be on her birthday weekend.
This was it! This was what I needed to do. The Avon Walk isn't easy. Just to participate, each walker must raise a minimum of $1,800. That's $1,800 for the privilege to walk 39.3 miles over two days. This would be one of my outlets, to help spread the word, to keep the conversation going. Fundraising is an all-year task for me. And the walk? It's hard. It hurts. And whenever I feel weak, I remember: she fought cancer. I can walk. And I do, so that one day, we won't have to fight anymore.
It's inspiring. At the opening ceremony, when you look around and see a sea of people... and know each one represents $1,800 more towards the fight. During the walk, when the city turns out. When you make new friends as you walk. When you borrow and share strength to keep walking. When you reach the end, and see that same sea of people, and hear the totals. And when you're sad it's over, but are already looking forward to the next time.
Her memory hasn't faded. It's become stronger. And she lives on, as we continue our fight against this horrible disease. The landmarks of time are always there, and now, on her birthday, I walk. We walk.
Fighting cancer is hard. Surviving cancer is a wonderful thing for those who do -- and more and more are every year! Surviving your loved one's loss to cancer is one of the hardest things I've ever known.
Sure, the walk is hard. Losing someone else to cancer? Harder. And so we walk, and walk, until we won't have to anymore.
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