Today is the one year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. This is actually a big day for me. It’s the anniversary of the day my life was turned inside out, and it has put me on a wild emotional roller coaster ride.  Thinking about this cancerversary has eaten up all my energy and focus lately – right in the middle of midterms for my school and due dates for my other writing projects, as well as finals for daddy’s school, and his preparation for teaching classes next quarter, and all the other urgencies and emergencies we tackle day after day.  Here we are less than two weeks away from your second birthday, and I’m just now getting around to writing this letter for your 23rd month. I haven’t even started planning your birthday party.

Don’t go thinking you are being neglected. You are by far the best part of my day – the one I will drop everything for, no matter what.

Dear Gem

But it’s important to know that there are times when life is like this.  There are times when everything seems to be coming at you from all different directions, right while you’re dealing with an emotionally heavy load, and you just can’t seem to get anything done. Forget everything, it’s hard to accomplish even one thing. It’s hard to focus; when you react to one urgency, 3 more show up right away from other arenas. You bounce from crisis to crisis, putting out fires without ever touching those all important items on your to do list…

Yup, everybody has days like that. It’s part of the human condition.

That is the most important thing to know about this situation. That when you are overwhelmed like this, you are not alone. Everyone else has been there, they know what it feels like.  The details may differ, but the everything-all-at-once-ness of it is universal.

Dear Gem

Lately, you’ve taken to holding your little hand up, palm out, and telling me to “Stop” when things aren’t going quite the way you think they should.  I’m not quite sure where you got that from, it’s not something that I do, but that idea might be right where you need to start in order to get through a situation like this.  Well, without the hand gesture. Most grownups don’t respond very well to that particular gesture. But take a minute. Stop everything.  You might even need to tell people that unless someone is bleeding or on fire, you need 5, or 10, or 50 uninterrupted minutes to sort things out.  Lock yourself in a closet if you have to, and take some time for yourself.

Taking a long walk is also a great option, if you’re in a place where you can do that. An outdoors walk is best. Yoga is also a great option for releasing nervous energy and helping you regain focus.

Then once you’ve expended a good bit of that nervous energy, come back and pull out a notepad and start writing. Write whatever. Anything and everything that comes into your head. Just dump it all. Let it all out. I call this the brain dump. I got the idea from the Artist’s Way, where you start each day with writing time.  The idea is that all these little stressful bits and pieces of everything that you’re carrying around with you are keeping you from connecting with your creativity. While I don’t necessarily do pages every day in the morning, I do agree with the general idea.  I find that all that crap floating around in my brain gets in the way of my productivity as well. So just empty your brain onto the page. Shred the pages when you’re done if you like, this is for you and no one else. You’re just clearing your head of all the noise and static.

Now you can start writing your to do list and prioritizing items. This whole process could be done in half an hour or less, but would likely be more effective if you invested a little more time.

Of course this wont make all those emergencies go away. But it will help you dodge, parry, duck, or deal with all the crap that comes flying at you.

I went through that process myself today, and as a result, I’ve decided that your birthday party is not going to happen in March. And since I have a conference and finals in April, it might even be later. I suppose we could just cancel the party altogether, but I do love getting all our friends and family together, and it doesn’t happen very often. I have also been looking forward to using your birthday party as an opportunity to say thank you to all the people who have been so supportive of us through this entire cancer ordeal (and I can’t bear the thought of missing one of your birthday parties). I still don’t know what I’m going to do as far as that is concerned. I just know I’m not going to put the time and energy into a party for this month.

Dear Gem

I have already started rounding up and just telling people you are two years old. There’s a part of me that resists this still, but you are behaving like a two year old. Yes, the temper tantrums, and the back arching, and the constant testing of boundaries, but also a more sophisticated sense of humor, you can count to ten, know all of the letters, and draw these amazing little smiley faces.

We’ve had a rough, and very busy month. You even had your first Emergency Room visit with a significant fever and cold. But we got through it all, and we had a lot of laughs, too.

You bring so much joy to our lives. I’ve had a very difficult year, but there has not been one day since you were born where you did not brighten and improve my day.

I love you so much.


Judy Schwartz Haley


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