I had my first cancer treatment just over a year ago today. Now, I’m sitting in my bed in Bozeman having just recently completed radiation. Tom came out to get me from Seattle and we packed my things, gave hugs to the family that lovingly took care of me, and we drove East. Just like that, over the 10 hour car ride from West to East, a year long battle ended and another journey began.
I feel this enormous pressure to be “fine” or even more. To be giddy and exalted. I imagine dusting off my hands, clapping them together, dust rising into the air and sifting away. As though the weight of the last year should be like such fine dust itself and I should be able to put down the heavy work of fighting through it and move on with my life.
I’m frustrated that it’s not actually that way. It would be so easy and so nice if life were that simple, if I could cut ties with all the emotional and cognitive pieces of me that stumble and crash when pushed too fast. Instead, I am coming to terms with the fact that while my body has defeated the disease, I still have a lot of healing to do.
This is a very vulnerable space to be in. While I was being treated, I was surrounded by medical professionals who understood what I was going through. They walked alongside me every step of the way. Also, I could easily point out my physical (and logically related, emotional) suffering to outsiders and I was constantly met with the empathy and support that I needed. In the end though, this is much harder. There is nothing to point to. Even I expected this to be a lighter, happier time. How can I expect anyone else to understand the completely out-of-my-head, deeply depressed and numb feelings I’m struggling with? It surprises and confuses me even, which convinces me that very few will understand, and that in itself makes it feel even more isolating and frustrating.
While I was fighting cancer, the obstacle was the disease. Something random and unexpected had happened and was causing me to have serious problems.
Now, the disease is gone. The obstacle is me.
I am now charged with finding the courage and energy to pick myself up and keep going. That is really hard when a year’s worth of heartache, pain and suffering are on my back, and I didn’t exactly drop delightfully into a world of sparkles and rainbows. Nope. I mostly crash landed into kind of a cold, harsh reality that demands things from me I’m not sure I have yet and that already feel overdue.
Inside, I want to hunker down under the covers and wait until the softness in me firms up a bit. I want to give myself the time and space to be gentle as I learn how to reengage in life again. That is diametrically opposed to reality. Reality for me is children, marriage, work- making sure we keep a roof over our heads (monumental task, actually) while trying to fill in some of the gaps and cracks my kids have suffered in my absence. I feel pieces of me being pulled in so many directions, and yet, I desperately yearn to pull them together and and fuse myself whole again.
It may be that I require more love now than ever (something I am not thrilled to admit). I don’t want to be so frail, I don’t want this to be so hard. But I recognize that this is where I am. I also recognize that I’ve picked up a lot of tools this year that can help me recover. Of course, I also have some spectacular people in my life that have been there when the lights go dark. I’ve abashedly told Tom that I need him- probably in the most sensitive, assuring way I’ve ever needed him. That hardly seems fair, I know, considering what he’s been through and that he needs a break, too. But that is part of our commitment to each other, and we’ll work it out and someday I’ll have the good furtune of returning the favor, I’m sure.
This is life now. So begins a new chapter. One of healing. One of attempting balance. One of moving forward despite the balled up fear and anxiety and eggshell exterior. Choosing to try feels like the bravest thing I’ve had to do yet. But I am willing myself to across that finish line. This, like all other things, will be captured inch by inch, pushing and pulling and scrapping to survive. Deep down, even though I’m tired, and worn out, and the light is dull, I know there is a life worth fighting for.
So I must.
And I will.
Give ‘Em Hell