My cancer anniversary came and went this year and I was, for the most part, too busy to notice. I tried to treat that as a good thing, not wanting to needlessly reopen a heartache that was healing. Instead, I fell ill with the flu and have spent the last four days in bed more sick than I have been in years. Well, since chemo really.
I mindlessly pulled out the blanket a dear friend gave me when I was first diagnosed. I took it everywhere with me back then, and I held it like a long distance hug. So here I sit, three years after my world crumbled, sick again, covered in the remnants from a hard won battle. Even I can’t avoid paying homage to the nauseating parallels between then and now.
Of course, there are monumental differences. This is the flu. I will be better in a few days. It’s annoying to miss work and the gym and time with the kids, but it’s so very temporary. Unlike now, my diagnosis three years ago deconstructed everything. There is not an aspect of my life that is not different now due to disease.
I wish I could tell you that I’m not sad or conflicted about any of it anymore. I want to tell you that cancer doesn’t still have its hooks in me like this. Most of the time, the past sits where I direct it to- out of sight and out of mind. This time of year though it tends to sneak up on me and tug at of all the vulnerable, painful bits I still have healing inside me.
It is hard to think about that chapter of my life. But as powerful as the feelings I have about it may seem- pain and sadness, grief and loss- they are all just feelings. It’s all just energy floating around looking for a home. Sometimes my pain parks itself as tears and frustration. Sometimes I’m impatient with the kids or can’t give them what they need. Sometimes sadness and grief show up in too many carbs on my plate. I still have plenty of rough edges. Today, however, those feelings are finding a new home in gratitude and rest.
When I look back on the person I was when I was diagnosed, my heart hurts. At that time, my professional life was in crisis, my finances were in a tailspin, and my marriage was on the precipice of ruin. Some things got easier, some of them got decidedly more difficult. From here, I have no difficulty seeing how treacherous that road was. It is easy to extend love and compassion to myself instead of the inhospitable coldness of judgment and feelings of inadequacy I used to struggle with.
It is so important for me to share with you how big of a mess I was, and how I continue to be the world’s biggest work in progress.
Look, I even had a close friend break up with me last week while I was out of town (talk about skill), so I am clearly so very far from having things figured out. But cancer has taught me a few things that have helped me stay afloat these days.
If nothing else, I have learned to lead my life with grace. Grace is forgiveness for the past and flexibility in the present. Grace is setting the highest standard for my conduct while releasing my expectations on the outcome. Grace is balancing self-love and acceptance for who I am today while aspiring for a better tomorrow. Grace is unconditional love, patience, and empathy for myself, my family, and all the people I choose to have in my life.
There are a lot of things I have yet to learn. There are so many ways in which I still need to get better. But I won’t grow much in the harshness of judgment and frustration. I must learn to create a richer earth for myself and I can only do that through love- love for everything that I am and the courage to become more.
Give ‘Em Hell