2015 wasn't the easiest of years for me.
It was a sentiment I heard echoed by many of my loved ones; it seemed to be a rough year for many. I said often throughout the year that I couldn't wait to turn the page on 2015, that I hoped 2016 was far better.
But in hindsight, I realize that 2015 wasn't a bad year, necessarily, just a difficult one. There were many painful, difficult moments, and many downs. But every difficult moment also came with massive growth and opportunity. Every down came with a complementary up. In the end, 2015 might have ended up being the most important year of my life so far without me even realizing it.
My grandfather set the tone by dying on New Years after a brief and losing battle with cancer. And my grandmother picked up where her husband left off, passing away in October after a years-long decline.
Yet, the day after my grandfather passed away, my sister learned she was pregnant with her second child. And in May, my youngest sister birthed my first bouncing, baby nephew. In September, that second child for my middle sister, her first son, was born. Two left our family, two who had lived long, full, complex lives. But two more entered, bringing with them the hope and promise that can only be found in the blank slates of brand-new lives not yet lived.
I was home in October to meet those nephews for the first time, and I just returned from spending two weeks at home for the holidays. And while kids are not for me at this particular point in my life, I absolutely love being an aunt. It fills me with joy to look at them, just starting to experience this business of being alive, and wonder who they'll be. Will they be as kind and smart and sweet as my niece, who turned 7 this year? Will the three of them go on to do amazing things, grand, wonderful, world-changing things? Or will they lead simple and quiet and good-hearted lives? Or will they do something else altogether? The possibilities are endless and I'm excited to see where life takes them, my little peanuts, the apples of my eye.
Right after my grandfather's passing, my dad went in for some tests because he just wasn't feeling right, and the results came back: Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Stage 3 to be exact. In typical fashion, my dad, possibly the most stoic human being I've ever known, simply shrugged and said, "Okay. Just tell us what the next step is."
The next step, as it turned out, was a months-long regimen of hardcore chemo that made him lose his hair and his beard. To put that into context, I have never in my life seen my dad without a beard. Not once. When I went home in October, he was bald as my baby nephew, with nothing but peach fuzz on his head and face. It was jarring. And the chemo tired him out, but worse, it left him with a debilitating case of neuropathy in his extremities that makes his hands and feet alternately go numb and feel like they're on fire.
Except it's my dad - "debilitating" isn't in his vocabulary. Even in the middle of his chemo, he never missed a day of work running the construction business he owns, save for once when a fever spiked so high that he was delirious. Even then, he kept trying to get out of his hospital bed because in his mind, he didn't have time for that shit. If anyone ever wonders why I generally tend to treat my getting sick or injured with the "walk it off" philosophy, look no further than my dad.
But on Tuesday, all that poison being pumped into his body finally paid off: He went in for his 3-month post-chemo bloodwork and scan and the results came back: 100% clear and cancer-free. While he'll have to return every 6 months for the next 3 years to continue to get follow-up bloodwork, the fact is that, save for the persistent neuropathy, his hair and beard are back (hair, darker and straighter; beard, grayer), and my dad is going to hopefully be around for a long time.
Shout-out here to Dr. Lim and the team at UPMC Shadyside for their brilliance and compassion, and to Mario Lemieux's generosity and philanthropy to the city of Pittsburgh, without which the groundbreaking Mario Lemieux Center for Blood Cancers would never have been built.
Still, the hits kept coming. One of my best friends and former roommate at the time, more like another little sister, really, went into massive kidney failure and had to start dialysis, which made her sicker than a dog and wiped her out. And just after that, she got into a car accident and shattered the bones in her right arm. Having to relearn how to use her hand was added to her already crushing medical news. It was hard as her friend to witness, harder for her to live through it.
And I watched other friends make mistakes this year, both personally and professionally, that I couldn't fix. Mistakes that frustrated me to no end because all I wanted to do was shake them and say, "You're better than this! How can you not see that you're better than this?!" Mistakes and decisions and actions that hurt both them and me.
But I also grew from it, and so did they.
I broke up with my boyfriend in September, but it was the most amicable, adult, mutually respectful breakup I've ever had. The night we broke up, though I knew it was the right thing to do, I was a crying mess. After a few moments of awkward silence, I finally asked him, "What are you thinking? Say something."
"I'm thinking I'm proud of you. That took a lot of guts to admit those flaws about yourself...and to be honest with me about mine. Thank you."
In the end, we hugged and laughed and it was sad...but it was also okay. I may have lost a lover, but I gained a great friend who supports me no matter what, and me him.
I dated for awhile after that. I had some great dates, some hilariously bad ones, and some potentially good things that didn't work out. I made a point to know what I wanted in a partner, what I wouldn't put up with, and to stick to my guns on both. And eventually, I lost interest in dating altogether, because right now, it's just not a priority. I'm open to it, but not seeking it out, and that's just fine by me at this moment.
Because there weren't just changes in my personal life, either. My professional life experienced massive growth and upheaval. In October, my boss sat me down and informed me that with the new round of investment, they were going over the budget and everyone's job roles, and honestly, they weren't entirely sure what to do with me. Editor-in-Chief was a title I'd been handed, but not really one I ever truly got to live, as the structure of our company didn't really allow for it. Not truly what an EIC does, anyway.
So the choice was presented to me: Accept a title change to editor-at-large, a role that was more suited to my strengths...and also accept a massive pay cut. Or take a month to find a new job, if that's what I wanted. It was very fair in how it was handled, but still, living in LA is not cheap and it came as a shock and with more than a bit of temporary panic.
In the end, I accepted the new role and pay cut with one caveat: That I'd be able to freelance for other outlets, as well.
I put the word out there to my colleagues that I was still with my current job, but was open to other opportunities, and I was gratified that offers came in. Because of this, I can now say that I work for Marvel - MARVEL! - company of my dreams, as a freelancer on their site. I have also been able to participate in the amazing community at Film School Rejects, full of fans and exceptionally smart, talented writers. I got to see my byline and article published in Birth.Movies.Death's gorgeous, special edition print magazine for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and will continue to be part of it in 2016. I published my first article for Forbes, prestigious publication that it is, and will be a regular contributor from now on. And still, there are other opportunities out there.
I may not be making nearly as much money as I once did, and yes, I sometimes lie awake at night worrying about finances, but at this point, I think that's part of the American condition. In return, I've gained a new audience, have gotten to flex my creative muscles, and have started to build more of an established name for myself in the entertainment journalism industry that I am sometimes still shocked I'm allowed to be a part of. Every time a colleague I respect shares one of my pieces or I get great feedback on something I've written, it humbles me. I'm just a girl who fell ass-backward into this job and still has everything to learn about it.
Yet 2015 was also the year that I started taking myself seriously. I slowly shed that starry-eyed girl demeanor and while I'm still so grateful for what I do, I also know now that I do it well. At least, better than many out there, well enough to make a living doing what I love, which is more than many can say. I look at most of what I write and think it's sloppy, know I could do better...but at the end of the day, at the end of the year, I can look at myself and go, think, You know, I--I'm pretty damn good at this.
And I expanded professionally in other ways, too. I spoke on my second panel at New York Comic Con to a completely packed house, lucky enough to share the stage with five other amazing, talented women as the moderator of an insightful hour that left people inspired and buzzing.
I wrote a pilot script with an exceptionally talented friend and I learned a lot from him in the process. While it hasn't been picked up anywhere - yet - it's still something I'm proud of and that we'll both continue to tinker with and put out there until all options are exhausted. What started as a running joke on Twitter turned into a new friendship and a learning experience for which I am so thankful.
I was quoted in and contributed to other outlets and events as a professional, an expert. I was asked to be the guest in various podcasts, both live and otherwise.
I met some truly amazing people thanks mostly to social media. Whether personally or professionally, so many people I've met this year fill me with awe. They are goddamn inspiring and I've learned so much from them all, whether they even realize it or not.
I had one of the best times of my life at San Diego Comic-Con and got to interview some incredible people. And I capped it off with one of the wildest, most fun nights of my life with friends old and new, and while the wheels drunkenly fell off, it turned into one of those crazy stories I'll tell forever.
I started a weekly show on Periscope through Parachute TV, the Marvel Universe Roundup. And while I am still new to it and my audience isn't yet that large, it's still something that I couldn't have foreseen myself doing a few years ago.
The opportunities have continued to grow for me at my main job, as well. With the role change, I've been allowed to do what I do best - be creative and write. To that end, I can say that I have directly helped our sales and PR teams with their goals, I've been published in our digital magazine, my bosses have given me praise for what I've done, rare from them and great to hear.
I've accomplished things that I originally had no idea how I'd even begin to accomplish when I started them. And the reason for that is that I'm finally starting to know my worth. To know it as a friend, what I will and won't put up with. To know it as a woman, the kind of man I want and the relationship I deserve. To know it professionally, that I am at the point where I can say I won't write for free, where I know that I know damn well what I can bring to the table for anyone with whom I choose to work. To know it of my past, finally putting old, vicious demons to bed in both head and heart. And to know it of my future, what I'm capable of and who and where I want to be by the end of 2016.
Looking back, I can say that 2015 was the most challenging year of my life, but I'm more fulfilled than I've ever been. For once, I'm actually proud of myself and what I've achieved.
As the Ninth Doctor said just before he regenerated: "Rose, before I go, I just want to tell you - you were fantastic, absolutely fantastic. And you know what?"
"So was I."