I think about the waiting. That, I think, is cancer's toughest treatment: the constant battle to accept that there is no certainty in the future. Even when you know you're going to live through it, you are a sitting duck. You can't make any plans, because no one can tell you what's ahead of you. They don't tell you because they don't know. So you don't want to make any decisions because of the tremendous chance that something will come up and you'll have to drop out of that school you applied to, the job you interviewed for, that trip you planned. And doing that- starting something you worked so hard for, having it within your reach, only to have to quit when you are so close to it- or once you've had a taste of it- that is heart wrenching.
Then you are hit with a barely tolerable second bit of reality, and that is that you have become completely dependent on other people. You can't move forward in your life until the doctor tells you what to do next. So you wait for the next scan results- 2 weeks. Those are a little unclear. Call and schedule a PET. Another 2 weeks. Then an additional week for the results. Let's confer with a surgeon and see what she thinks. The appointment is a month away. Should I be concerned about not getting in before then? No, your oncologist says, it's fine. So you wait a month. And then the surgeon wants to talk to another surgeon and also to a radiologist. 2 weeks again. Wait for surgery. Wait for radiation. Wait and see if the chemo worked. Wait, wait, wait.
Suddenly, you look around and a year of your life has gone by. When am I gonna have an answer? you think. But there is no answer. That's what none of us got the first time we went through treatment. There are no answers. If the doctor had one, he would give it to you. But he is making an educated guess and gathering all the info he can to do the best possible job at that. And let's face it, you just really want to know if you're going to live. And for how long. That is all it boils down to. And there is no one who can tell you that.
So you eat lunch. You watch some t.v. You try to fill your time with whatever you can until the next appointment. But are you living? I didn't. I don't think I lived a single day in between my diagnosis and my official declaration of being N.E.D. I survived. I relied on everyone else for what was going to happen to me, and as the treatment began to take a toll on my body, I began to rely on others to take care of that, too. I fought it for as long as I could, but then it felt inevitable. Can you wash my hair? Help me get upstairs? Pull me up out of bed? Change my clothes? Help me clean myself up? I threw up again, will you bring me a towel? Do you see my pain meds? How am I going to get to the hospital on Thursday? Do we have any soup? I can only imagine what the weight of caring for me must have felt like. It must have been smothering. And me- I was fading into a ghost, having lost everything that I considered a normal life. I hated myself for trying to fight it. I hated how stubborn I was. I hated my body. I hated myself for having succumbed. I hated myself for not being stronger. I hated myself for hating myself. My body was so torn up physically, there was no hope for me to maintain my emotional health. My mental outlook had completely deteriorated with my ability to take care of myself.
So this holiday season, I look back at all of it with an honesty and empathy that has taken me literally years to muster. Did my life stop the day I was diagnosed? No, but it did not begin, either. I guess I say this because if you open your heart and love cancer (how bizarre does that sound?) for what it is, it will, in time I think, allow you to find the things that matter most. And that truly is a gift. But that is not an easy journey. Or it wasn't for me, at least. I am so much smarter now. I know that now, I would be a much more active patient- doing my own research and making my own decisions. But even if all that was taken away, even if one day I was rendered completely helpless, I would still be smarter. Because I'd know the truth, and the truth is this: it doesn't matter. It is what it is. Life is life, and you better just take it for what it is. Even when we're "healthy," we can try and fool ourselves into thinking our future is a sure thing, but it never is. It never was, and it never will be. Today is what we get. And that's it. You better make it all it can be and accept it for what it is, 'cause it's all you get.
A while back I wrote about how low I've been. I guess it's time to come clean and just be open about everything. In a way, I look back on this blog and it seems it didn't exist before October 11th of this year. It seems my whole life kinda started the day I really realized how depressed I was. It became about moving forward and getting healthier mentally. Which is good. But to be honest with you, it's sometimes exhausting, too. Maybe I don't have to tell you because you've faced the process before, but if you haven't, let me just break it down for you: it is so overwhelming to look forward into your life and see that the process you are going to have to go through is painful and arduous, but most of all that it could take years before it does not feel like a daily, forced chore.
That being said, irregardless of how bad coming to grips with everything and facing my demons sucked, being healthy and happy has become my number one priority, and so I have learned to love it like a 12-step recovery junkie loves their meetings. It is painful but somehow wonderful. I have begun my journey. I guess that I think part of that journey is telling everyone about it (to keep myself on track), and that include you. See, the deal is, when all of this went down with cancer and I became so dependent on everyone else for my physical care, I somehow got things mixed up and allowed my emotional well-being to be their responsibility, too. I made my happiness dependent on them. Because my happiness was completely in their hands, I had to become really controlling of everyone and everything. I wanted to be happy so I tried to make sure they made me happy. It sounds crazy and it's kinda hard to explain, but that, in a nut-shell, is what has been dragging me down: the exhausting, white- knuckled approach to life. You are probably thinking, as a good friend said to me, "Honey, cancer didn't teach you that trying to control life doesn't work?" Well, no, I guess not.
So that's me and where I am. Tomorrow starts a new year and it seems appropriate as I've already begun the transformation of a new and better me. I think the best part about all of this is the humility it has brought me. Nothing in my life has been as freeing as it has been to allow everyone to see how flawed I am. It is truly amazing to be as transparent as I can be and still be accepted and loved. I never want to be the other way again.
So, after that 8 minute rant, I was really leading to this: I learned it's okay. If I am or you are depressed, it's okay. If I can't or you can't seem to pull yourself out of a funk, it's okay. We don't have to hide it or be ashamed of it. A few weeks ago (the day after my birthday) I said I'd finally come close to forgiving myself for my dichotomy. Now I'm like, forgive? For what, being human? Where in the world did I get that stupid idea.
Anyway, that's the dirt. Now you know. Someone call National Enquirer! :)
And now, on a completely unrelated note, this totally uplifting and amazing story! 2 exclamation points in a row!