There are moments in life where a universal shifts happen. The birth of my first child was one of those times for me. I remember one evening in particular – I was sitting on my bed in our small apartment staring at this little tiny human that just came through my body. I looked into his eyes and he was staring at me with such intensity that I felt a jolt of electricity through my being. It was crazy, nothing felt the same. It was hard to describe the feeling to those who had not also gone through that similar threshold. It is similar to being cracked open or one of the many veils of a human being fell away.
Having a child came with a life style change. The universal shift was more internal regarding how I viewed the world around me, but also there was a shift in how I walked through my days with a baby strapped to my body most of the time. My breasts were now a cafeteria, and over all my body and my life was not mine – not for a long time.
This cancer thing is another one of those universal shift moments but instead of being an abrupt smack to the head like becoming a parent, the cancer thing is more of a slow unfolding of something very different but no less profound. The subtle nuances of the day-to-day feel held under a microscope in my mind. I am seeking more words to describe this feeling but none are feeling adequate.
I am not who I was a year ago. I feel like I am more of myself because I have been through a big life event that challenged me and my family. My perspective on many things have shifted. I view people and relationships through a new lens. A lens that seems to have a low tolerance for drama or false relationships. I hold space that not everyone clicks with everyone and that does not make anyone good or bad, just a reality of human connection. I value even more the close connections I have in my life. They are my touchstones. I also value those who are wonderful people whom I am not close to. Everyone has something to offer and it is ok for me to protect my space.
My work life balance has also been recalibrated. Before my trip to the hospital last summer I was working on a few project and had a few jobs – I was busy. The money was great but I was not around much. The hard stop of surgery and cancer diagnosis made it so I had to slow down and be around to have afternoon conversations with my kids of which I am so thankful for. Our son is leaving for college in the fall and I will miss him immensely. I am full of gratitude for being able to fulfill my sons years long request for me to watch Breaking Bad. I appreciate when he would make me lunch of grilled cheese (comfort food) when I was home recovering from an infusion. I love watching the random (frequently loud) play fights ad debates the kids would have. I cannot deny that money got tight without me working my jobs but it was a gift for me to be home more with the kids and for Jenn and I to slow down with each other. Moving forward and returning to a more normal work life I am navigating with care how much and what to put on my plate. I am one to want to do everything, so being able to say “I really want to but I am not going to ….” is a primary focus and constant practice.
I cannot wait for the ground to thaw and for gardening to begin. I feel like my summer ended in July last year so I am ready to focus on my herb garden on the east side of the house. We are ordering mulch this year and more stones for the driveway. I am craving having my hands in the soil and loving up the property. I missed that very much last year. Luckily Jenn was on it in regards to the harvest and preserving as much as we could.
I am very thankful for the tumor that decided to grow like a rubber band around my colon to cause a blockage that brought me to my knees because if it didn’t grow that way it would have silently taken me out. I have been gifted a second life. I am very aware of how precious my days are to be with my friends and family, to garden, to do my work, to just be.
On the flip side I also feel like less of myself than I was before because my body has changed through scars, side effects (which are unknown to be permanent or not), my mind works differently, I don’t move as fluidly as I did due to joint pain and stiffness, I know my liver is tired (and I am trying to heal her), plainly – my body has aged. I know I was going to age anyway, like all beings, and maybe chemo didn’t speed it up a bit but it feels like it may have. All of this I am working on coming to peace with while acknowledging I do have the power to work on improving some of these complaints. In reality though we all will age as long as we are alive – it is part of the ride.
I have thought about death a lot since I was five years old and realized my grandmother passed away from cancer when my mom was very young. This early awareness of death formed some interesting habits. MOst of my life I have been very aware of making sure I say “I love you” to those close to me because if something were to happen I wanted that to be one of the last things I said to them. I have been told that I am the only person who grieves the loss of someone who is alive, young and healthy. Grieving the idea that loss will happen someday. As I have gotten older that feeling of grieving the alive and healthy has become not so pronounced. It was a fear of heartbreak and loss which probably kept me from getting to close to people. In my thirties I found a quote that is my favorite by Louise Erdrich. It goes:
“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.”
In this quote I realized I was missing out on so much by protecting my heart. One must be open to great loss and pain to experience the great joys in life. It has not been a perfect path since this epiphany but it was a start.
I have not the words to even try to explain how I am feeling after this cancer thing. Lost but ok seems to work for today. To say “I’m a cancer survivor” seems so weird to me. It is now going to take longer to fill our health history forms – that’s a bummer. My mind does occasionally ask “What the heck just happened?” or “Was that for real?” and then there are the real questions of “Why did I get cancer?” and “Will it come back?”. The answer to the last two questions will remain “I don’t know” and I need to be ok with that.
The mark I have left on this world is enough. I am enough. My life has been enough. Everyday is enough. Everyday forward is a bonus round. Everything I do moving forward is enough for that day. I am one but in a large sea of fish. If my time were to end someone would pick up the work I do and continue. I would miss out on seeing the amazing adults my kids are well on their way to being (every day I am more excited to see who they will become). I would miss seeing if they chose to have kids and what my grandbabies would be like. I would miss watching my children become parents and realizing the complexities of that job, being able to love and support them through all the stages of raising kids. Jenn and I have been through the ringer and have been able to grow together through all the challenges brought to our journey. I would miss not being able to grow old with her, I am looking forward to that. I have promised that I will run her over with my Amigo Scooter at least once.
Overall the universal shift post cancer is a positive thing. I am finding I worry less, I listen more, I am less inclined to talk about myself, I am honoring myself more, I continue to be grateful for all the gifts life has given me. This ride of life is a gift with all the ups and downs – it is a gift. I have no clue what the future holds but I have a feeling it is something good. But for today, I am feeling lost but ok and that is ok.