“You’ll wear it in Tahiti,” said my husband, Gary. It was Christmas morning, nearly a decade ago, and I unwrapped a fabulous dress perfect for the islands.
“Try it on, Mommy,” Lauren said. Shiny red ribbon twirled in her chubby fingers and she had tinsel in her hair.
“Three tickets to Tahiti will cost us a fortune,” I told Gary. “I’m not sure we can swing it.”
“Lauren’s not invited, so we only need two tickets,” he said. “She can go with her own husband in 20 or 30 years.” I looked at my elderly mother-in-law whose hearing was so bad that she wasn’t following the conversation.
“Your mom can’t take care of Lauren,” I said. My mom suffered from Alzheimer’s and my dad had myasthenia gravis. Gary’s dad died a year after Lauren was born, so there was no one to watch her if we left. But the truth is that even if we had a team of nannies with doctorate degrees in child development, I couldn’t imagine leaving our daughter on the other side of the globe while we snorkeled in the tropics. “We’ll get there someday,” I told Gary. I hung the dress in the back of my closet.
A few years later, when an earthquake broke a water pipe that saturated our drywall, we moved everything from that closet, and out came the dress — tags and all. “I wonder if it still fits,” I said, slipping it over my head. The soft cotton felt like silk and the colors popped just like I remembered. But instead of booking a trip, I tossed it on the “keep” pile and went back to my task.
The following Christmas, I talked to my sisters about it. “We’ll take care of Lauren,” they both said. “She’ll have a blast.” By that time, Lauren was old enough to be separated from her parents for a couple of weeks. I visualized Gary’s shock and awe in discovering an envelope full of tickets, and I started shopping online. But apparently, people plan in advance to book those over-the-water bungalows they show in all the glossy brochures, and by the time I got my act together, everything was sold out on the dates we had available.
So, I bought Gary a tie and new bits for his cordless screwdriver.
Years drifted by, and then cancer came along.
My first two rounds of chemo sent me to the ER when my white blood cell count plummeted to zero and fever raged. It’s a serious condition called neutropenic fever, and both times I was admitted into the hospital. “You have to pull through this so we can take our trip to Tahiti,” Gary said. Things weren’t looking great.
My family and I spent the next year dealing with cancer, and when I was strong enough, we moved to another part of the state. I packed the dress in a box and put it in the back of my new closet.
“Tickets are on sale,” Gary said a month ago when he should have been doing the paperwork that threatens to bury us. “And Lauren’s booked for two weeks at summer camp.”
There are a million reasons not to pursue our dreams. Sometimes, our dreams are expensive. Often, they require a lot of work. Usually, they involve risk.
I looked around our fixer-upper house and saw blank spaces where cabinet pulls should be. An electrical cable spans our backyard and really needs to be buried. And the tile backspace behind the stovetop still hasn’t been grouted.
“Let’s go,” I said.
I pulled that dress off its hanger and tossed it into a suitcase with a bikini and a few granola bars. Tahiti is everything they promise: warm water, colorful fish, unforgettable views.
Wearing that dress, smelling the fragrant breeze, tasting salt on my skin, I fell in love with my husband all over again. One of the beautiful things about cancer is the urgency it creates to say “yes.”
What’s on your list? How will cancer inspire you to say yes, too?
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