One thing I never unexpected was how she would impact me in a profound and personal way. In the fall of 2004, I was stunned to be diagnosed with endometrial cancer at 37 years of age. Once I pulled myself out of the vortex of “worst case,” I went to my comfort zone and immediately moved into action. I managed my care like I would a big project. I got a second opinion since this was a rare diagnosis for a woman of my age and health. I then sought out the best surgeon and took the most aggressive approach available. I determinedly focused on healing and moving forward as quickly as possible. I asked Michael to do what I now realize was the impossible. I asked him to treat me as if everything was the same as before that October day. (To his credit, I know he really tried although I could always see the terror in his brown eyes.) Cancer was not going to define me or change my life.
Approximately six months later, I was called into my boss’s office and told my position was being "eliminated" as part of a merger. I felt immensely betrayed because those who made the decision knew first-hand what I was going through. And I had serious doubts about my ability to manage what lay ahead. I felt like an empty shell of my former self both physically and emotionally. I pushed those self defeating thoughts aside and threw myself into finding a new role. Action again provided me as a way to move beyond this latest devastating development. I was offered a new job close to home but it did not have the same long term potential as the one I lost. So I turned it down (with full support of my terrific husband) and extended my search nationally. I found a great new position in Seattle and moved with my two young sons while my husband remained behind.
While I had been very open about my diagnosis in Chicago, I no longer wanted to share it much after getting to our new home. I was trying hard not to dwell on what might have been. (I still tear up if I let myself think about or discuss it). Things looked optimistic. And with regular monitoring, I hoped to keep it that way. But I felt a pressing need to keep a frenetic pace. I pushed myself hard at the new job to make a valuable contribution in a demanding environment and at home to be a great mom to my two boys who missed their dad when he wasn’t with us (as did I). At one point, I got pneumonia but I soldiered on coming to work only two weeks later. People remarked I did not look well, but I preferred forward momentum to convalescing at home. Predictably, I got pneumonia again and added a little strep throat for good measure.
We decided after my husband joined us in the Emerald City to pursue our long standing desire to add our third child to our family through adoption. Again a sense of urgency pushed me. I wanted to complete the process is as fast as we could. I was anxious to meet our daughter waiting out there for us. When our adoption agency experienced an issue with our paperwork, I talked Michael into a family road trip to Yakima to deliver it personally and avoid a 6 week delay. When our referral finally came in, I counted down each day until we could fly to Ethiopia.
Then we flew half away around the world and brought our beautiful new little daughter back to the Pacific Northwest. After she joined us, something changed inside me. Finally, I was able exhale and I didn’t even realize I had been holding my breath. I could stop running from something and just be. The realization hit me one day while driving. I felt an unfamiliar calm and inner peace and reflected about how that came to be. This fierce little baby girl from East Africa with the piercing black eyes healed me in a way doctors could not. She completed our family, and in doing so, somehow gave me back something taken from me with the diagnosis and unexpected job loss. I have no explanation. I can hardly type as the tears fill my eyes and stream down my cheeks. Even after three years, I am touched to the core with the miraculous gift my amazing daughter gave me by just being her wonderfully unique and complex self. She loves pressing her cheek to mine, wrapping her arm around my neck and snuggling up with me -- and she has the most amazingly, tinkling, irresistable full belly laugh. Some of my favorite shots from this year are below.
For those who want to tell me you are lucky, I want them all to know I am the lucky one. You made me more whole and made me want to be a better person. I can’t wait to see what you accomplish as you grow into your huge potential and personality. Happy Fourth Birthday my darling, beloved Leyla!