Sunrise, sunset

This blog began as a celebration of dawns—no matter how many I might have—as I waited to hear what the breast cancer recurrence meant to my prognosis. There were times when I waited for phone calls that could tell me I could have 18 months or less. There were months of uncertainty and difficulty, dozens of scans, tests, biopsies, four surgeries, five weeks of radiotherapy where my skin turned fuchsia and blistered. And there have been 481 dawns since I first began.

There was another blog first. started out as a story of a family moving around the world and discovering what life was like—and who they were—in a very different context. And then, four years ago today, I was diagnosed with breast cancer the first time, and the blog took on another meaning. The second half of that blog turns to cancer, to mortality, to waiting for the doctor to call, to watching my hair fall out and slowly grow back again. And then, the interesting part of the story seemed over, so I stopped. Until the re-diagnosis and a new beginning at 25000dawns.

Today, on this warm January day in Wellington, the health news is blissfully quiet. I have my program of pills and diet and exercise and meditation. I fall on and off the wagon with all of those, meditation being the hardest to hold on to; butter being the hardest to give up. Now I’m living with the shadow of cancer—just going about my day, trying to devote the right amount of my energy to not getting it again without spending all my time thinking about it.

Cancer has been transformative for me. It has not only shaped my body and my habits, but it has shaped who I am, how I make sense of the world. These last years have forged new parts of me, making me more decisive (admittedly off a low bar), more thoughtful about how I spend my time, perhaps more selfish than I was before. This new me is not uniformly better than the old me, but she is who I have become, and she is stronger and more capable in many ways than the person I was four years ago.

Now a new transformation has appeared. I think there is something beautiful about a shift in this dawn blog from a story about cancer to a story about moving around the world. Makes for the kind of tidy narrative arc I love in a Jane Austen novel, and one which my own life tends to resist. And of course, under the tidy arc there are guaranteed to be millions of untidy bits. But for now, let’s shift the focus of these dawns from an examination of the scary world of cancer to an examination of the scary world of living—in this case, moving for seven months to London.

People have wondered why we are doing this odd thing. I can only tell you the story I tell myself. Michael and I married incredibly young and then spent an inordinate amount of time in school. I graduated with a doctorate, two young children, and a student loan that could make my hair curl (maybe that’s what turned me into a curly girl?). More years of serious work ensued—a university professor’s job, the tenure application, and tenure. We never backpacked through Asia or slept in hostels in Europe; I was always backpacking to school and we were sleeping in our own bed. It wasn’t until our late 30s that we found a way to indulge in a taste for adventure, and uprooted—just for a short time, we thought—to this tiny country at the bottom of the world. But here we fell in love–with a people, a landscape, a way of life. And eleven years later, New Zealand feels like home.

Now, I suppose, it’s time to explore again. Michael and I have talked about spending half of each year abroad each year to escape New Zealand’s chilly winters. We thought that would begin when Aidan was through with school. Aidan thought perhaps he shouldn’t miss out on that fun, and so we are off into the wide world for a little while. Somehow, we have two houses worth of things in New Zealand now, and so one house’s worth will be held in storage until we return and figure out what’s next. The house we renovated years ago has found a delightful pair of house sitters who will cherish it and the dog while we are away. So, we seem to be all set. Now all that’s left is all the grunt work—the packing of our rented Wellington house, the putting of things in storage, back into our house at the beach, into suitcases for London, the finding of a flat to rent there. Daunting, but by 1 March, it will be behind us and London will be before us.

Today I walked Dolce in the Botanic Garden in front of our lovely little rented house here in Wellington. I felt the chilly southerly in my face, looked out over the harbour, walked through the bush listening to the tuis sing. The list of things I’m giving up—at least for a while—mounts. The harbour, the tuis, the Botanic Gardens, the New Zealand bush, our delightful Dolce. It is a bittersweet reminder that with each choice, no matter how much we are going towards the things we want, there are gains and losses. This week I’ll put Naomi back on a plane to school—I’ll be much closer to her in London, a gain. I’ll walk with Melissa through the Gardens—come March, I’ll be much farther from her, a deep loss. I’ll work with Keith this week—he’s another loss. Jim is moving to Ireland, so that’s a gain. And so it is, the abacus moving this way and that with lightning speed.

When we moved to New Zealand eleven years ago, I wondered who I would become, how this move (which I thought was for 18 months) would change me. Now I wonder about this next chapter. What happens that’s different in Europe? Will this fork in the road change me? Change our family? Change our future?

On the one hand, wherever you go, there you are. And on the other hand, context really matters. And so I’ll pack up my winter boots and shift my context. And maybe there will be blog fodder there, as I count down my dawns in NZ and then begin counting dawns in London.

[The picture today is a sunset from the Queen Charlotte Track where my family and I walked for the first few days of the new year. I’m certainly not going to London because New Zealand isn’t lovely enough…]

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