For whatever reason, Thanksgiving has been a mile marker for my life, my whole life. It started in college. Thanksgiving was the first time I got to go home after leaving for school in Indiana. I’d be lying if I said the girls on my floor in Teter Quad didn’t have a pool going on whether or not I was coming back. Using the scale of “There are only good days and great days,” the first half of freshman year at IU was a teeth grinding only-good-because-there’s-no-worse-choice” kind of semester. I hated my roommate, I hated my classes, I hated dorm food (this is when I stopped eating red meat, as it always looked suspicious. And when I first experienced macaroni in chili. What?), I had a dopey boyfriend whose name I actually forgot when introducing him once, I hated the weather, I hated not having a car, I hated getting cut from sororities I hadn’t wanted to be in in the first place. Going home to familiar surroundings and friends and family and my mom’s pumpkin pie never looked so good. Of course, on the way there, my friend, Denise’s car broke down while going 75 mph in front of a semi on the highway in Wheeling, West Virginia, and no matter how hard the two college girls begged and tried to reason with the mechanic that WE ONLY HAD 4 DAYS AT HOME, he was unimpressed and we spent the night in Wheeling.
The year after graduation (Surprise! I went back to IU!) was my first Thanksgiving away from home. As my mom put it only this week, it was the beginning of me “choosing” work over home for the holidays. The news anchors at the series of television stations where I worked were more than happy to spend Thanksgiving with their families so I could sit in the big chair and read the news to viewers in a Tryptophan coma. I never really got tired of telling stories about people feeding the homeless, kitchen fires from people frying turkeys under the roof overhang or IN THE KITCHEN, or frozen turkey bowling. And I kind of got used to my turkey feast coming from Perkins or Denny’s or in the best years, Publix.
Years of Friendsgivings all over the country followed. They ranged in…. classiness (for lack of a better word.. Help me, thesaurus.com!) from huge beautifully-set dinners between evening newscasts at Nancy’s to four of us with a meal picked up from Whole Foods. I think there was even pizza one year. But it was always an event filled with great stories, laughter, love, and varying degrees of leftovers. And pie. There is ALWAYS pie. And a Turkey Trot.
In recent years, as things (i.e. cancer diagnoses) started happening with more frequency, I am able to tell time with Thanksgivings more than ever. In 2013, Thanksgiving found me lying on the the couch, the bed, the floor, the couch, as I was so sick from Fentanyl the thought of food… well, there were no thoughts of food. I had just been diagnosed with Thymic Carcinoma for the first time and was in the abominable middle of my radiation and chemo regimen. I’d been hoping against hope that I’d make it to Linda and Charlie’s, but it wasn’t meant to be. My mom and Patrick went without me. They brought home a heaping plate of desserts, but I think Patrick eventually got tired of looking at it in the refrigerator and ate it. Worst. Thanksgiving. Ever. (PS I rallied and climbed both Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Fuji within a few months. And I did an Ironman. Badly.)
Thanksgiving was great in 2014, even though I’d been diagnosed with a recurrence of the disease. I was mostly in the Sutent trial at the NCI/NIH but was “too well” to actually start the drug. My tumors were too small to get me in to the trial, so I was in the cancer honeymoon phase, if there is such a thing. This was the year of the Lululemon 5K where everyone was a winner and got an apple pie. It was a Whole Foods turkey dinner year. which meant there was running and skiing, then just reheating for whoever wanted to come over. After the year before, this Thanksgiving showed me that no matter what obstacles and challenges I faced, I had a cornucopia (holiday-suitable noun) of things to be thankful for.
Thanksgiving 2015 was terrific and terrifying. We had the most amazing FOOD and FUN with FRIENDS at Rob and Sara’s. Rob made whipped cream out of coconut milk, for God’s sake! Earlier in the day, there actually wasn’t a Turkey Trot to run, as I’d just flown in from an appointment with Dr G at Georgetown. We had discovered that the drug in the second trial, Keytruda, wasn’t working. The tumors were measurably bigger. And my white blood cells had taken a beating. Even if there were another trial for me, which there wasn’t, I couldn’t have gotten in with my Neutropenia. Dr G told me to come back after the holidays. The bad news was my cancer was going untreated, and though it was slow, there was tumor growth. The good news is, I FELT GREAT. Of course, the hypoglycemic crisis and the Diabetes diagnosis came within a couple of weeks. Boom.
This year, Thanksgiving was everything I could have hoped for. I am almost a year in to my third clinical trial, the CDK inhibitor, which is still working. I have a good handle on the Diabetes (most days) and managed to gorge myself at Kurt and Debbie’s without sending myself into a blood sugar coma. No small feat. I’m midway through my first 30 days in a row at home in about two years, and I’m taking advantage of every minute. I’m actually gaining a little fitness traction, which feels vaguely familiar. It snowed on Thanksgiving and it’s still snowing, and I’m about to go snag my first runs of the season at Park City Mountain. At this year’s Turkey Trot, I was maddeningly slow. And even though I admit the penguins caught me, I was able to stay ahead of the turkey on a bike all the way to the finish line. Thankful!