Cancer is tough.
There is nothing that is easy about it. I think everyone could understand that and agree. From diagnosis to treatment to recovery… cancer is tough. And I’ve only cycled through the roller coaster of having cancer once (and hopefully that will be all).
But – I’ve learned many lessons from going through that “journey”. I put the word in parenthesis as some people have expressed a distaste for the word to me. I just don’t know how else to stay positive while debriefing this life altering disease. Some of the lessons?
- I’ve learned to appreciate what I have. I had so many expectations of things that would be – or things I was working to acquire. None of that mattered when all I wanted was more life. I grew to see my beautiful family, my Canada, and albeit rather ill – my health.
- I’ve learned to love life and that life is NOT always what you think it will be. It is impossible to prepare for things that have not yet happened. Impossible. Live in the moment with some reasonable boundaries that the future “may” just come along. Again, part of this lesson is the appreciation of the day. I remind myself to be thankful for waking up and being able to enjoy my morning coffee. I appreciate the simple things – to love the simple things.
- I’ve learned how strong my family is. It was far more difficult to watch me be sick than it was for me. They stuck with me. They loved me. They were my biggest cheer-leaders.
- I’ve learned how supportive my friends are. “Should I wear my wig?” I’d ask. Inevitably the answer was, “If it makes YOU feel better. Don’t do it for us.” And that is a sort of microcosm of all reactions. It was never about them – it was all about me.
- I’ve learned that many people are not comfortable in the presence of someone fighting cancer… the bald head? Many are willing to work through their discomfort for the sake of trying to preserve the dignity of the other person.
- I’ve also learned that we don’t all roll the same way. Not everyone is able to speak in the language of emotions. That can change. Emotions can be taught. There is nothing that breaks down isolation like a well-placed confession of fear, or rage, or love.
Yes. Having cancer is difficult.
Life after cancer, however, is also difficult.
It is the realization that you have been given another chance – and that chance had better count – that makes surviving cancer difficult.
I am acutely aware that life is fragile.
I MUST make a contribution – make a difference – leave my mark.
It is not right for me to speak on behalf of all survivors – I have not had the courage to compare notes yet. I can barely bring myself to speak about being a survivor, lest I jinx myself. I worry that calling myself a survivor will bring my guard down and the beast will sneak up on me again.
If I think too much, I can get lost in myself.
The world seems so big, so open, so clear. There is no clean path that lays itself open for me at this moment. “What will I do with myself? What contribution will I make for the gift of life I have been so graciously given? Why am I still here?” These are a few of the questions that face me every day. I am so very grateful. I am so very blessed. I remain optimistic.
I want, however, to not just survive, but to thrive.
Lately, my thoughts have wandered to the chemo-suites where I was once a patient. Perhaps there is someone there I could help? Am I ready to stare cancer in the eye – once more – vicariously experiencing the journey through someone else?
Am I able to be empathetic without getting lost? I really don’t know yet. That – that support – that empathy – takes courage. I’m not sure that I have that sort of courage yet in my new life. I feel more cowardly now in this “cancer survivor” role than I did when I was in the middle of the battle.
I am not content to be a cancer survivor. I want to wipe cancer right of my slate. I want to be alive, vital, and contributing. Thinking of being a cancer survivor makes me feel that cancer still plays a role in my life. Even though it has been defeated (to date), I want to bury it and walk away.
Cancer has, however, forever left its mark. Literally and figuratively.
I have to accept that I have been changed forever. I have to accept that I am a cancer survivor. It is the biggest battle I have ever fought in my life. It is the biggest battle my family and friends have ever fought with me. And so – it is in that context that I must not just survive but thrive.
Having cancer is tough.
Surviving cancer is tough.
Thriving, as a survivor, is a responsibility.