1 year, 7 months, 22 days & Counting
I was asked the question this last week "When do you think you will be over everything?".....I nervously started responding that I'm doing really good and maybe once I hit the 5 year mark or maybe when I"m done with my clinical trial. I felt like my initial response was just to bury it. I actually felt a little shame for not being "over it". Perhaps I was trying to divert the attention away from myself by answering in the nonchalant way that I did or perhaps I was just trying to make the people in the conversation feel good by not getting honest about it. I have spent some time since that conversation pondering not only the question, but why I felt compelled to answer the way that I did, as well as, what my honest answer really is. I have decided, here and now that my answer is simple and also very complex....I will never just be over it.
How can we expect to simply "get over" something that has transformed our life in a way that one simply can't go back to what once was? I have been tested, broken and am currently rising from the ashes. That kind of experience doesn't just leave a little mark, it changes the whole damn landscape. There is no going back, only forward. Every morning I wake up and have to dig inside my little chemo bag (literally, it's a bag marked "chemotherapy drug") to take a pill that might be saving my life. It's hard to feel completely fine and "over it" with that glaring at me each day. While I"m loving my new hair extensions, every single morning I look at myself and think "huh. how to tame this mane today.". Funny, but entirely accurate. lol! I feel the awkwardness when I'm with a group of people that want to ask me questions but are afraid to because they don't realize that I am actually an open book when it comes to my cancer experience. I have to make the very unsubtle cancer joke to put everyone at ease. I am the one who when I read a headline about someone dying or receiving a dismal diagnosis, I think that was me, but I"m still here. Why? Again, hard to "get over it" when the ghosts of cancer past are still way too real and way too scary.
I was mindlessly scrolling through Twitter this week and a title to an article literally jumped off the page at me. It was about a young woman who had lived 1 year, 6 months and 26 days cancer free before finding out that she now had stage 4 breast cancer. She was allowing herself this one day to feel all of the anger, sadness and fear about her diagnosis that one naturally feels, before she was switching her mindset to begin her physical, emotional and spiritual battle of walking tall and giving this go around everything she's got...and more. Recurrence is something all of us who have survived cancer think about. It haunts us. Why did I survive the first time? Have I done everything in my power to keep it from coming back? If it comes back, do I have the strength to beat it again? So many questions, so few answers. Shannen Doherty is an actress famed by her days on Beverly Hills 90210 (I was a die hard fan). She very publicly battled breast cancer a few years ago and came out of it victorious, only to disclose this week that she has known for a year that she now has stage 4 breast cancer. It took her a year to come out in the open with that news. I totally get that. I, too, took a long time to be able and comfortable enough to really put my story, my journey, out in the open. It takes so much time to process what the diagnosis means and how to manage the fight, let alone worry about how others will perceive your news and quite honestly respond to you. When I was on my trip to Vegas this fall, part of the reason I had so much fun was because I felt so damn free. No one really knew about my cancer except for my close friends there with me. To the rest of the world, I was just that girl in the sparkly dress having the time of her life. It was fun to be her. Escaping the claws of cancer is hard to do when the world is looking at you with sympathy, curiosity and/or fear. Fear that if it happened to you, it could happen to them. For us warriors, that's a hard and heavy burden to bear...something hard to "get over" and move on from. As far as I know, the last day my body still had cancer in it was the day of my surgery. My tumor and all 17 lymph nodes with cancer still in them were removed from my body. I have had clear scans since. That sounds so nice and easy, but it's been a long, tough road getting to today. Even with another scan looming in April, I'm fighting every damn day to keep my body cancer free. I'm still figuring out what I can control, what I can't and how to deal with what is out of my hands. I'm choosing to NOT 'get over" cancer because the lessons and experiences I'm having wouldn't be what they are had I not been thrown down the gauntlet. I'm choosing to pack up my fear, worry, anxiety, hope, grace, compassion and new perspective and keep it with me on this crazy ride. It's making me better and making me stronger. I hope I can keep adding more numbers to my cancer free timeline and keep celebrating and living fully as I go. I'm chasing dreams, experiences, connections and a destiny that would not have been mine had I chosen to get over it. So, consider this your notice....I'm a force of gratitude, love and optimism to be reckoned with. I'm not getting over that any time soon, -M