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Day Zero

By Julie Fanselow

“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.”
—Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart

Soon after my sweetheart was scheduled for a stem cell transplant, we realized it would take place the morning after the election. Day Zero is the nickname transplant patients use to mark the way the procedure resets the immune system, and it seemed especially apt in 2016 as we looked forward to the end of a contentious presidential campaign.

The Statue of Liberty, as seen from behind and from the waist up, against a grey sky.

On election night, aware that Tom would be homebound for several months, we went out on a date. As we held hands and bathed in the glow of Barry Jenkins’ beautiful movie "Moonlight," all was well. Love seemed ascendant in America, and Tom would have a new lease on life the next morning.

I knew something was amiss when we left the theater. Several people were crying outside a nearby bar, and on the TVs flickering through the windows, I could see the reason for their despair. The election was not going as many of us expected.

The next morning, after sleeping badly for a few hours, I woke Tom for our appointment with the transplantation team. It was a surreal morning for everyone, but it was also a relief to have something to take our minds off the news, at least for a few hours. For Tom, this was the first day of the rest of his life, however long that might be. We still had that fact to celebrate.

The new stem cells gave Tom about fifteen months of remission before the cancer came back in early 2018. He died in June of that year, eleven days after we married on Tom’s 62nd birthday, our family crowding into the hospital room to wish us well.

I miss Tom every day, though I am grateful his medical odyssey didn’t happen amid COVID-19—when our family couldn’t have cheered our wedding day, when his children and their mother wouldn’t have been able to visit on his last night, when I wouldn’t have been able to hold him close in his last hours. Love carried us through that hard night, and as uncertain as the world feels right now, love will bear whatever lies ahead.

Prayer

Spirit of life, in this time of uncertainty, let us rest and get ready to lean all the way into the promise of a United States that values and cares for everyone. For the sake of all our loved ones who are gone, those who are here, and those yet to be born, we can’t stop now. We won’t stop now.

About the Author

Julie Fanselow

Julie Fanselow (she/her/hers) lives in Seattle, where she takes long aimless walks every day, including in the rain. She attends University Unitarian Church and was also a founding mother of the Magic Valley UU Fellowship in Twin Falls, Idaho. Julie tries to “write the change” she wants to see...

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