Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope you had a nice one. Tonight, instead of romance, Alexi and I divided and conquered homework and hockey practice duties, though we did celebrate over the weekend. And this morning I made heart-shaped biscuits, along with eggs and bacon, for breakfast. In this house, nothing says I love you like bacon.
Speaking of love, a few days ago Alexi and I attended a party to celebrate the release of my friend Sarah Jio’s eighth (!) book, Always, which is about love in Seattle in the nineties. It will be my airplane read later this week.
Sarah and I became friends through blogging. After I mentioned that I have a BRCA1 gene mutation, she interviewed me about it for her Glamour column. I talked about my experiences with breast cancer that led to the discovery of my cancer gene and the preventive surgical choices I made, but not about the terror that sometimes still filled me whenever I had an unexpected pain somewhere, or noticed anything that might be abnormal about my body. At the party I remembered how I'd felt at the time of that interview, in 2009, a few years after my BRCA1 diagnosis. Now, I can’t remember the last time I felt afraid.
Alexi and I started dating just after Valentine’s Day in 1998. This picture was taken a few months later. You wouldn’t know it from looking at us, but I’d just learned that I had a rare, aggressive form of breast cancer. We were on the ferry because Alexi and his father, who was visiting from Nova Scotia, were going fishing. We traveled across Puget Sound and then through rain forest and alongside miles of primeval shoreline, finally arriving at the motel where they would be staying. I returned home in order to meet my oncologist the next morning; they spent the night in Forks, Washington and then fished the Bogachiel River with a Native American guide in his drift boat. A few days after they got back, I had surgery and then a month after that, I began chemotherapy. After my hair fell out, Alexi shaved his head and kept it that way until mine grew back. Seven years later, we went through it together again, this time with a baby and a toddler. I’ve learned that life isn’t about avoiding hardship; it’s about creating meaning in the circumstances you find yourself in.
In our years together Alexi and I have experienced long, uneventful stretches of everyday life, times of dislocation and crisis, and bursts of joy. This year, for the first time, our oldest son, Abbott, celebrated Valentine’s Day with someone outside our family. I feel a catch in my throat when I think about what he doesn’t yet know about love.