Cancer entered my life five years ago. At the same time, it entered the lives of everyone I knew. Cancer didn’t just happen to me. It happened to my family. It happened to my friends. It happened to people I loved and to people I didn’t even know yet, that I loved. It happened to all of us.
So, now, five years out from that melee all is back to normal . . . right?
No, not exactly. Cancer took things. It took friendships. It altered relationships. It has literally killed friends. It stole skill sets, memories, confidence, strength and robbed me of peace.
It forged relationships that perhaps would not otherwise be while seemingly at the same time destroying others. And as I write these things I think of the women whom I was lucky enough to meet, but whom I have now lost to cancer – just like that, gone. I am one of the lucky ones . . . so far. I am beyond that daily fear that I am next. I am past that everyday feeling of: what does that pain mean? I am beyond thinking “what if” and I am beyond allowing myself to be tormented by all of that – at least for now. Still, I don’t have false hope or believe in some certainty that I have beat this. Nor am I resigned to having it come back. Instead, I am simply getting on with the business of living. But . . . that is complicated.
I was not supposed to be here, still, writing today, living, breathing . . . complaining. I was not supposed to be alive . . . today.
Five years ago I was given a somewhat grim prognosis. I never spoke of those dismal stats to anyone, not back then. And, it wasn’t just to protect my family and friends – it was to protect myself – as if in keeping silent about those stats I could suppress it, make it go away and make it not true – just as much as I feared speaking those percentages out loud would breathe truth into and make it real.
So, I let people pray for me. Who would ask anyone not too? I let people help me and take care of me, thinking that surely this was it. And yet here I am.
And, while I am frustrated and frustrated often . . . I do have a life. I am devastated and sad that I continually lose friends to this disease. I am frustrated that I apparently still need so much help with stupid, basic, everyday things. I am tired of not being able to keep up with my own life. And, I am tired of the looks I get from friends and family (okay, not so much my family, but some) when they see things that they would simply pick up, put away, do differently because clearly there is a better way. Well, my better way is limited now. I can’t just pick all of that crap up by myself, can’t even open a jar of anything (by the way), doing laundry is a lymphedema causing event in my life that leaves me with pain for days. And, if I were to actually keep up with all of the stuff that needs keeping up with, I would never have room for time with family, friends, music, nature . . . all of that would be replaced with chores and recovering from chores-induced-pain, followed by repeat, repeat, repeat. No thank you.
It is frustrating to live in a constant state of feeling behind. I am a planner. Oh, wait. I was a planner. When cancer came into my life I had plans, I had a direction, I had a trajectory – or so I believed. That was all replaced with: I can’t keep my head on straight, I can’t drive to a friend’s house (that I have been to a thousand times before) without now getting lost a few times first, I can’t do the simplest things like dishes without becoming exhausted and I can’t simply just get my old life back. But, I have a life.
I simply can’t explain myself anymore. I am not the same person I was and I never will be. And, that is, and has to be, okay. In some ways, maybe I am better. But, in most, I feel that I am less: less proficient, less organized, less on time, less of a friend, less of sister, less of a daughter, less of an Aunt, less of a lover . . . just less. That is something I mourn sometimes. Especially since I have the same wants, desires and even hopes that I had before cancer. It is all just somehow seemingly farther out of reach now.
And at the same time . . . I am more. More of a friend to those who are hurting and struggling through something I now know. More able to understand losses. Better able to cope.
I would like to think that I am more patient. But, I know that is not true. Everything has a sense of urgency now. Why? Especially when I long to . . .
take a slow walk on the beach and think about absolutely nothing. Be quiet. Be quiet with my best friend. Sleep. Rest. Be still. Not worry. Wake up. Breathe. Be calm.
I want to hold my friends close and tell them that I love them. I want my family to know I love them. I want to thank everyone who helped me when I needed help the most. I am here because of you. There isn’t a day that I am not grateful for that. There isn’t a day that I am not in awe of how much love showed up in my life during that time. Incredible, truly incredible. I want to remember more.
I want to be better than I am. I want to feel whole. I would like to feel strong. I would like my life back please.
But, apparently you don’t just get to pick up your life after cancer. And even if you did get to go to a “life” baggage claim or to a “life” coat-check of sorts . . . everyone else would be long gone, they didn’t wait there for you. Lives are still happening and your cancerverse hasn’t slowed anyone else’s life down but your own. I am painfully aware of the events – really important life events of friends and family – that I have missed. I feel guilt over missed birthdays, anniversaries, babies I haven’t even met yet, celebrations I did not get to, etc. Those absences (especially in just the past couple of years) have created distance in my relationships. It was all fine and good to fail to show up to some event when you are bald and going through treatment. But, when your hair grows back and you look well, and you are back to work (even if working full time essentially precludes you from doing virtually anything else) some are a bit less forgiving of your inability to show up. I get that, I understand. I feel loss when I sit with friends and I don’t know what they are talking about because I simply was not there. So much got swallowed up in the past five years.
In those years friends lives have changed. Children have grown. Relationships have come and gone and a whole span of time – that straddled the time that I was ill and recovering – is simply gone. I am incredibly grateful that I have a life. It is more cluttered than I would like and I feel constantly behind, but, I am here. And still, even after five years, I am working on making my way back. I will write something less whiny soon. Tonight, I just needed to vent.
Who knows, I may do some catching up on the chores this spring, and then again, maybe not . . .