Just Breathe

He smiled in the doorway. My surgeon looked proud. He was on his way out… stopping by as promised. I felt the warmth. I held back the emotion. The vulnerability. Piercing. But I… would be still.

I tried to use my words. I peered down at myself… a faded, jelly bean gown stained with betadine from surgery. My hair in complete disarray. I could feel it. I knew I didn’t look good. I pushed my shoulders back trying to sit a bit more upright.. if only for a moment.

He had cared for my facial nerve like a newborn baby as he carved.

“Raise your eyebrows.”

“Bite your upper lip with your bottom teeth.”


I knew the drill. I did what he said… not knowing if I was passing the test. I could not feel some of my face. He had a good poker face, I thought. I looked around at my family… tired eyes. They looked relieved. That was enough.

He moved onto the next patient.  We would see one another next week. He disappeared down the hallway.

The drainage tube in my neck. tugged out. I looked away. The nurse would remove the wires next.  Cords. Machines. One by one. Freedom with each tug. Unclip. Beep. I took a gentle breath each time. Staying quiet. I had told myself the night prior. Don’t move. Let it all happen. My job….Was to. Just. be. Let the medicine and my body do what they were designed to do. I would be patient and smart.

I knew the power of anasthesia and the pain medicine. I knew what they did .. every cell on a roller coaster ride by the second. minute. hour.

Breathe. Just breathe.

This Is just now.

My diagnosis had hit me like a mack truck. At first. Nothing. I didn’t move. I had a hair and makeup trial for my wedding two hours from then. Should I keep it and dig in? I had plans. A busy day for a bride-to-be like all of the others that were sprinkled with doctors appointments. I had so little time to take care of me already. Work .. kept calling on my days off. It was never enough. Who I was supposed to be for everyone else reigned. The doer and worker bee in me…frozen. I was puzzledy by the ambiguity of a diagnosis that meant so many things. Soon, I needed to walk out of there, but how?

They handed me a box of tissues.

I thought of the baby that Tim and I wanted soon after we were married. Was this still possible? I asked.

It was why I was there. sitting  listening. That sterile room in Sylvester. The Nurses. The doctor. I had questions I had not gotten answers to about my health. I needed closure for a new beginning. A life with my husband. A family. We were getting ready.

I was weeks away from having the life I had dreamed of… but never thought possible. I had spent years renegotiating with myself. Settling for so much less, and then, I nearly had it all with Tim. We had a plan, and I could almost touch it.

It was all too much.

My family, and I had said goodbye to a beautiful man the day before. His grave beside the water. The wind whistled the trees. He was a father. A husband. A real man. A fighter. He lived with immeasurable grace and for 10 years…He told cancer. F*#@ YOU! He lived. He lived until he was ready to go, but he deserved more time.

Selfishly, we wanted him forever.

It hurt. I heard the word again.

My doctor was still talking.

I pushed the images away. I came back to myself. Cancer. We were talking about me. We needed to go over what’s next. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to give it life by giving it a name, but I would need to use it to tell Tim. My mother. My father. The list would grow of heartbreaks I’d be responsible for that day and the days following.

I took a deep breath. Our conversation honest and raw as I liked it. There was no sugar-coating. There was just truth in that room.

Truth that takes everything from you, but like anything else… anything traumatic… you start to set it aside. You teach yourself to do so so that it doesn’t infect everything that you are and will be. I did that, and when my wedding day came, I was ready. I dressed delicately in white. I walked towards strength… holding on tight to my father. My Rock.

Closer and closer we flowed towards my mother who had just sat down at the edge of the palm grove. I could feel her arms around me. Kindred spirits. We have always spoken without any words. I look away to keep it together.

All of those eyes and smiles. Love. So much love in every seat. My heart full. Tim was waiting for me. We locked eyes. I felt the wind on my face as it dazzled my veil. There was real magic in the air.

We said, ‘I do’ as if we had said it a thousand times before.

We Laughed. We danced. We ate and drank.

Unforgettable moments.

Far deep inside it went. The sadness. The fear. The struggle with the invisible, unwanted ghost inside my body. A body… weakened by the life I had led, but replenished just before a battle that was fast approaching.

Surgery and recovery.

…choosing a bed pan over a restroom fearful I couldn’t make it that far in the fluorescent lights after surgery. My 3-year-old nephews plastic spoon for Jell-O. Paper cups with straws. Glass far too heavy.

Each day… a new opportunity. A fresh start. Fewer clouds. Deeper breaths.

Less medicine. More sleep…  More strength from within thanks to the love that beams out of those dearest to me. They have held my hand. Cleaned my wounds and reminded me that there is always a better tomorrow.

My eyes may water. I may feel the hurt. The ache. The pain. But I will not allow a full cry because I am not defeated.

Not this time.

Not now.

Not by this.

Armor on.

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Nick April 16, 2018 at 12:06 am

I’m sure you don’t know me. We worked together briefly in Indy, probably only spoke once or twice. I don’t really know why but after I read this I felt the need to leave a comment. My family has gone through this sort of thing before, most recently about a year ago. While it wasn’t me, I know it helps to know people are pulling for you. I will continue to read your updates and look forward to reading the one where you announce that you are cancer free

annkeil April 18, 2018 at 2:17 pm

Very sweet! thank you so much.

Brian April 16, 2018 at 1:42 am

Truly inspiring words Ann! Know that my thoughts and prayers are with you!!! Stay Strong and make your dreams a reality!!!

annkeil April 18, 2018 at 2:17 pm

Thank you!

Tim April 17, 2018 at 5:22 pm

Your strength astounds me. You’re warrior spirit inspires me. I love you more with every breath x

annkeil April 18, 2018 at 2:18 pm

Love you forever.

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