I cannot get away. Part of me wants to lock up the past and throw the key away. The other part of me accepts that this is the new me and I am better, so much better, for it. Yet, the lingering essences of my darkest nights loom as if freshly applied yesterday.
Can you get away from the labels, the stigmas and the badge of courage after a cancer diagnosis? Would you want to? Why wouldn’t you want to?
August marks the month that nearly almost six years ago (yes, it has been THAT long), I was hiding in my master bathroom with a pit in my stomach waiting for my surgical oncologist on the other end of the phone line to deliver the news. The nausea intensified and the hydrochloric acid in my esophagus bubbled higher and higher up into my throat. Children knocked on the bathroom door, curious as to why their father and I were hiding in the bathroom, unavailable to them. My heart nearly palpitated out of my chest and then nearly stopped beating when the words were uttered: you have cancer.
Honestly, it took me a full twenty-four hours to process those words. Over and over and over again, my sweet doctor’s voice replayed in my brain; as if I could possibly change the meaning of the linguistics of that one sentence.
It took me a full year after my diagnosis to finish my course of treatment; as having a baby in there certainly changes all standard protocols. I was not ready to share my story then. At the time, I remember being embarrassed. Yes! Embarrassed. I had not quite figured out why I had cancer; despite a number of theories synapsing through my head. I was not a fan of the new look I was sporting – at the time, I had not yet had my “reconstructive” surgery so my chest consisted of a very large DD mammary coupled with a then misshapen half-a-boobectomy sized C boob (that was now cancer free). My hair was coming back in with a vengeance: I had a head full of black, jet black, squirrelly, kinky, unable to tame pubic hair…….hello…….ON…..MY……HEAD. Seriously, I recall the number of days where I felt mandated to put a pair of skivvies up on my skull to tuck it all in.
Slowly, with time and with some encouragement, I began to share my story and I began to see the positive in being the poster child for what NOT to do when you find a lump in your body. I also became a sort of cheerleader that despite being handed a deck full of poop, you can outlast, outwit and outplay with the right attitude and a change of lifestyle. Having a very cute, very personable new born into toddler during this time certainly helped warm the public to my, let’s say “exotic,” look at the time.
Two and three years after my entry into the war zone, I was angry. Very angry. People were dying all around me at young ages from cancer. Five deaths in a one year period. What the fudge? Each time I stepped into the funeral home to pay my respects, my emotions grew vastly and more intensly out of check. The nausea was back in full force, the shaking began in my very core and the tears, okay, by the fifth one, the wailing was inconsolable and I was back to embarrassment. How dare I feel this way? The family is just feet away from me and I am a blubbering, incoherent, snotty mess? I cannot explain it. Perhaps, these tears were not only for the loss of my friends, but perhaps, finally, salt water shed for my own sense of loss. After all, I spent so much of my remaining energy being strong for those around me, that I very rarely grieved for myself during the countless days I was hanging on for dear life: vomiting, rolling in excruciating pain and nearly praying for a relief from this awful torture via death.
Fast forward to the present day and recent celebrations of winning the cancer lottery – having met that five year cancer free, no evidence of disease, milestone just two months ago and my mind is swirling (no, I will answer your question here – my mind never stops).
What do I do from here? Do I close this chapter and lock up the key? Part of me says yes. My cancer battle was really not unlike a very long road race. My finish line has come and gone. I surpassed the finish line after a very long, very drawn out test of perseverance and endurance. I was awarded the ultimate medal: the gift of life and a place holder in my very own record book. I set a PR in my game of life. But aren’t people sick of hearing about my experience with cancer? Okay, okay, you all GET it by now.
The other part of me says no, it is unrealistic to shove my experience away in the memory banks of road races, wedding, childbirths and more. Cancer is a terrifying experience and I know with a solid affirmation that truly, one does not understand someone going through cancer like another cancer survivor. All experiences of cancer are vastly different, including the same exact types, no body reacts the same as another but knowing that someone else has the same feelings as you did or reacted the same way to the toxic poisons that actually end up saving you – there’s great comfort in sharing stories.
Our society thrives on labels for some reason or another. As I transition out of wearing my cancer badge on my bosom and now, neatly tucking it away in my memory box, I realize I am in no need to lock up my past and throw away said key. Despite my label and despite the cancer now being well in my past, I am embarking on my newest chapter and my journey I have yet to experience.
Even though my body still struggles with the side-effects of cancer, the ensuing treatments, the countless surgeries, all these years later – my body is truly an amazing machine and I have to compliment this machine for all that it does accomplish.
My husband now counters my complaints of the limitations and restrictions I face through this battered body with a new excuse that incites me like none other. He stops me mid-sentence in my rant about how my feet are still struggling with neuropathy and how my left arm is weak from my surgeries, to remind me that perhaps AGE is starting to be more of a factor. I quickly shift from feeling sorry for myself and being angry that I cannot do what my mind thinks I should do, to feeling my fists ball up and subsequently hurling of insults to my beloved husband - how he’s about to get his @$$ kicked for saying such a thing! AGE?!? I gently remind him that neuropathy means I lack a lot of feeling in my feet; therefore, they will make the perfect weapon in beating him. ;-)
Just like that, my mind is no longer worrying about my past or being labeled (now perhaps a domestic abuse badge?). I return to my regularly scheduled programming of being a mom, a wife, an auntie, a daughter-in-law, a sister, an exercise enthusiast, a kale devotee, a philanthropist (even without my yet to be made millions), a friend, and a lover of life.