I had the incredible opportunity to prepare and deliver a Tedx talk in Bozeman in April. As expected, I learned a lot. I had fun. I worked hard. What I wasn’t expecting was how hard the journey to the red circle would push me, what it would reveal about where I was in my life, and how finding my voice was a brutally challenging but beautiful endeavor.
When I applied for Tedx, I knew what I wanted to say. I wanted to talk about all the ways cancer had inspired me. I wanted to share with the world the (somewhat) unique perspective I carried about cancer’s gifts: the opportunity to see and approach life with fresh eyes, the clarity of vision and purpose, the love and joy that existed above and beyond the hard moments. I was still bouncing on a full heart, happy mind, and unbounded soul at that time.
Receiving confirmation that, yes indeed, I would be giving a Tedx talk felt like confirmation of all the things I had optimistically believed. I believed that my suffering had purpose, that life was a blank slate where I could start again fresh and clean. I believed that good efforts led to good outcomes. Acceptance to the Tedx stage felt like an underscoring of all the unabashed hopes and dreams I carried forward. It was if the universe was nodding, giving me a gentle and encouraging smile to push me forward.
And then I spent three months slogging through radiation in Seattle. Alone. Under near constant gray, rainy skies.
Depression hit me hard and fast. As the end of treatment neared and as I continued to slip further and further away from the sunny girl who had sent in that video submission, panic set in. “What was I going to talk about? I don’t even believe in this goodwill-cancer-opportunity-brightside-silverlining-bullsh*t anymore!” Not only did I not have a speech, I was falling further and further away from the person I wanted to be…and that was terrifying.
By the time my treatment in Seattle came to a close, I had gone from bouncy optimist to grumbling pessimist. I was angry. Life was still continuing to knock me down hard every time I tried to make a little progress. “Clean slate my a$$,” I thought. This was supposed to be my rising from the ash moment and instead I was still getting buried in the dirt. It was confusing. It felt like punishment. I started to spiral out.
What followed was the most unsettling, mentally demanding loss of identity I have ever experienced. A lot of cancer patients go through a period of adjustment as they re-emerge after treatment. Instead of the natural, paced, controlled landing that I had planned, I took a nosedive and slammed into post-treatment life in flames. I ran around trying to put out the fires that were simmering while I was away but that were now full on raging. I couldn’t keep up. I had no control. I felt useless and defeated.
I took all the pain and suffering I was carrying and I aimed it inward. There was no one else to blame. No way I could control anything. I stopped eating. I didn’t believe was worthy of care. I didn’t know how to fix anything, how to restart my life and shake off the misfortune that kept finding me.
You can imagine that it was super fun to try to draft an inspirational Tedx talk at that time. It was hard for me to believe in the things I used to believe in. My hope and faith and zest for life had abandoned me. I felt like a failure. Worse, I felt like a fraud.
But then I stopped thinking about myself so much. I started thinking about all the people and all the ways they had shown up for me. Even if I couldn’t talk about the grace and beauty within myself, it was easy to talk about what I had received from others. Even in my cynical, hurt brain I could still feel the objective fact that I was truly, deeply loved. Once I found that chord, the talk unfolded in front of me. The draft that I ultimately performed was written in about an hour with the same amount of time dedicated to edits. It was my truth, and sure enough that often has a way of writing itself.
I have incredible gratitude for how Tedx helped me process how I really felt and what I really believed about cancer and recovery. I am grateful I was able to turn outward and reconnect with all the love and support I was so freely given. I am grateful that I was able to be honest and talk about the light and the dark and that I didn’t feel forced to represent a singular side of my life. It wasn’t all hope, but it wasn’t all hurt either. Tedx helped me unearth my real message. A message that weaves through both sides of the coin: solidarity/individuality, fear/faith, grief/joy, suffering/triumph, love/hate.
The journey to the red circle pushed me to acknowledge and accept my pain. It also helped me find room to welcome and reconnect with the good. And for that, it will always be one of the most incredible journeys of my life.
P.S. I would be remiss if I didn’t thank you all so much for being such a beautiful part of my life, my Love Army. Thank you.