Return From the Brink

Now that it’s been several days of no longer feeling like I’m actually knock-knock-knocking on heaven’s door, I think it’s time to admit that for a while last week the general consensus around here was that I was a goner. That I was on my way out, making my grand exit, rolling the credits.  That I was dying.

I’m wary of tempting fate by talking about it in the past tense, since we’re by no means in the clear, and I am still spending the better part of my days in bed.  But the difference between how I was last week and how I am now is enormous.  I just feel that how close I actually came to the Big Finish needs to be acknowledged because all of us – me, my mother, my husband, my brother and the friends who had rallied around and tried to hold me to this side of the mystic curtain – are just shaking our heads in wonder at my apparent Return From the Brink.

It is hard to say this without it sounding like an exaggeration, but just a week ago I was literally thinking that I had maybe a few weeks at best, and probably not many of them lucid, given the pain and the difficulty I was having breathing. This fear was of course confirmed by the solemn words of various medical professionals, including my dear cancer shrink.  I remember panicking that it wasn’t enough time; that it had come upon me too soon.  I couldn’t look at Georgia without wanting to hold her little body close enough to mine to feel her breathing (which she is able to tolerate for about four seconds.)  My husband and I said “I love you” as we always do, but the words got bigger and heavier, sweeter and sadder.  My mom would put her hands on my forehead to ease my headache and I could feel her trying to pull the cancer right out of my body, trying to draw it away from me and make it stop killing me.  So, even as I got ready to go to Detroit, I wasn’t convinced there was a point.

There were other, less emotional responses too.  I remember wondering if this blog might get published as a book posthumously, and thinking how unfair it would be to not get to be around when it happens.  (Who will get to sit on Oprah’s couch?? Will all of you give your permission to publish your comments along with my posts??)

I also began mentally composing my own eulogy, or a kind of farewell speech for my funeral. I know that’s macabre and a little egomaniacal, but being a writer and  a control freak I’ve been drafting some version of it since I was a teenager.  Besides, I reason it’s a lot easier to make jokes about a dead person when you’re the dead person.

I also became philosophical, wondering if I were granted a reprieve, or a second chance at life, how long it would take for me to start complaining about things like wrinkles or gaining weight.  Whether I would eventually start taking for granted in little ways the people I love and who love me.  I wondered whether I would really be able to sustain wanting and appreciating every single day that was given back to me; if I would be capable of holding on to the concept that each day was a thing once taken and then returned to me, to be treasured, to be grateful for.  To want life that much, continuously – is it even possible to function when you have that profound an awareness of your mortality?

(I swore that I would try.  I’d love to face the wonderful problem of not functioning properly in society due to an excess of awareness and gratitude for being alive.)

Anyway, it is a strange and terrifying thing to get so close to death, and stranger still to be reflecting on it when I don’t actually feel like I’m a comfortable distance from it.  Around here we’ve all begun to tentatively and somewhat incredulously talk about it, like survivors of a car crash or a house fire, still in shock, mere meters from the burning shell of a once-recognizable thing, but starting to believe that we’re safe from immediate danger now.  We’ve started to admit to each other that it really looked like I was going to die, that it could have been days or weeks, that we were all so scared – and that just as suddenly it doesn’t look so much like that anymore. It’s as though on a cellular level, or maybe somewhere near the seat of the soul, we’re all still reverberating from the enormity of it.

And yet we’re also calmer than before.  This comes partly from our new-found hope about the future (because now we believe that there could be a future for me!) and partly from walking so close to the edge, but not going over.  Having approached it, sidled up to it, we’re perhaps more at peace with the possibility of my death, but also hanging on even tighter to my life, and to each other.

Anyway, for now, even in the shadow of the Brink, it feels immeasurably good to be able to be out of bed for a few hours a day, to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air, sit at the kitchen counter, boss people around my kitchen, laugh and eat and talk.  And so far I’m not complaining about wrinkles or starting to take anyone for granted, though I did notice with some alarm that I’m in desperate need of an eyebrow wax.



Filed under Living with Breast Cancer

21 responses to “Return From the Brink

  1. Katie

    My god, you are an incredible writer, Leanne. And I’m so happy to hear that the eyebrows have your attention, instead of the Brink. Have a wonderful, wonderful week.

  2. angela

    “..each day was a thing once taken, then returned to me..” For all of the survivors this is so true! I have never met you yet I feel so connected to you because of your wonderful words. I am so glad that you are feeling better in every which way. Take care of yourself and know that I am thinking of you…angela

  3. Sue

    I am in total agreement with Katie…you are one exceptional writer! Love Dr. Detroit! Love the fact that you are enjoying sunshine, fresh air and laughter! It’s all about the future! Keep well, enjoy these glorious days that we are having and know that we are all cheering for you! Leanne, you can do this!!!

  4. Andrew Giles

    Keep writing like this and you may earn a “Giller” Award! 😉 Kudos! You rock L. Keep on keepin’ on! ♥

  5. Jodi Lastman

    I know a great eyebrow waxer. The best actually. I’d be happy to accompany you as a celebration of being on this side of things. I could use one too.

    Kisses and kisses.

  6. Barry Martin

    I’d come for the wax too but if Jodi goes I need to watch the kids.
    Congrats Leanne. Looking forward to getting back on the book.


  7. Lisa B.

    It is too beautifully written not to be a book one day. And I can’t wait to see your gorgeous self on Oprah’s couch.

  8. Gwen

    Your writings must be published one day, for sure, and they have to be published when you are on this side of the green, as they say, so that you can enjoy every moment with Oprah and the rest of the talk show hosts who will be beating a path to your door, begging for interviews. What fun! Perhaps you can invite them to the Big Party! Meantime, hang in there! Absorb the good vibes coming at you from every direction!

  9. Tess

    Well written Leanne!! So brutally honest and so poetic all at the same time. Thank you Leanne for sharing your words and your life with us. I’m so happy that you have come back from the brink and that you most importantly have enormous hope for the future. I’m sending you love and lots of good energy. Welcome back!!!

  10. Georg W.

    Coming back from the brink, BAAAAA, you were no where near it. We the followers of you and your blog, had a human chain link fence there to stop you from falling, and will always be there to boot.

    Hug away Leanne, to mom, Georgia and hubby, all at the same time too. Love, laugh and talk and boss whomever you wish to in your kitchen. And watch out you guys, because Leanne is going to boss you around for a long time to come.

    Jenn says do not forget to try the strawberry smoothies.

    Enjoy the good weather it’s a sign of better things to come. To paraphrase:

    “I’ve known a wind so cold and seen the darkest days
    But now the winds I feel, are only winds of change
    I’ve been through the fire and I’ve been through the rain
    But I’ll be fine
    Cause I’ve got faith of the heart”

    All our love and hugs.

    Georg and Jenn

  11. Jen T

    Although I only found out about your blog a month ago, I check it everyday to
    see how you are doing! I was thrilled to read today’s entry and how much better
    you feel – your writing is so incredible, it truly feels like so many if us are on this
    journey with you…kind of like the Verizon guy!!! Travelling from TO back to Chicago we crossed at Detroit and it seemed a little brighter than usual!
    Keep up this fight, girl because you have earned the right to JUMP on Oprah’s
    couch! J

  12. Doona

    Leanne, thank you for the reminder for the rest of us to enjoy the ordinary pleasures of life.

    I read your account with a joyous heart.


  13. Leanne

    Thanks all of you lovely people.
    I want to share a link with you: Jodi Lastman posted a little shout out to the incredible community you have all created out of this blog. (Jen T I love the image of the Verizon guy with all the people following him everywhere – too funny!)
    I think Jodi’s blogpost is a much-deserved tribute to all the people that keep me going. Thanks so much Jodi for taking the time to recognize that “the com­mu­nity that cir­cled around Leanne demon­strates the best in humankind” — I couldn’t agree more.

  14. Spawn of Doctors

    Hello all!

    There is a fundraising website ready to go. It will be updated with news of the fundraiser but already has a donation button set up and ready to go. Please visit:

    Please note that you do NOT need a PayPal account to donate. When you click donate, on the bottom of the page, it allows you to donate via credit card. Thanks for your support!!

    And, Leanne, I encourage you (and, in fact, direct you!) to include this URL in your next blog post. We’re getting you to Motown for as along as you need!

  15. Tami

    @Spawn of Doctors — Looked at your fundraising link and just wanted to tell you that you did a great job!! Hope lots of donations come pouring in to meet the goal of easing the financial burden for Leanne.

  16. Hank

    Leanne, What a joyous time this is. Spring is here and you are full of hope and all of us who love you are so much more lighthearted and optomistic!! Thank you for being such an incredible tower of strength and for sharing with us. None of us will ever think of the dreaded evil “C” word the same way again. You have given us all courage and hope. And I am getting on that donation web site right now. It is an honour to participate in your recovery. Lots of love!
    Hank XXXOOO

  17. shannon

    Love to you Leanne xoxoxoxo

  18. Jenn

    thinking of you everyday and sending you every bit of love and hope we have — and we have A LOT!! 🙂 xo

  19. Veronica Van Rooyen

    Reading your experiences is like listening to a brave, eloquent and — funny friend. Yes, you are FUNNY amidst all the CRAP. Other times you are a heartbreaker. I believe your work will be a book one day. I realized your beautiful writings would be something — but I had a different idea of what…You’re a special gal with a special story — telling it so perfectly.


  20. Haike

    I have read your last blog, and thought….what a wonderful family you are…and yes…you do deserve a spot on Oprahs couch….hi to Mother Jann…I think of you all with love and support everyday. Haike

  21. Michelle

    You’re a brave woman with what looks like a strong spirit. I wish you all the best in your recovery!

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