It’s been an odd week with random thoughts and emotions invading my quiet little world…and I know that this too shall pass, but for now, this is how I’m feeling, and to withhold this information or deny that these moments of confusion, hurt and fear even exist would seem shallow and insincere to the cycle of processing my journey through the cancer.
Last Friday morning I woke up to the first flu/cold that I’ve experienced since my diagnosis. Fever, chills, aches, sore throat and this awful fear that being sick would hurt my already weak immune system. From there, I started having dreams that the cancer was back, thus my sore throat. While awake and with every cough, I began panicking internally and could almost visualize the cancer spreading from my tongue through my neck down into my lungs. I allowed myself to wonder what it would be like if in fact I received the news of another tumor…how would I deal?…could I put myself through another round of treatment?…but then wait, the doctor was clear that I can only use radiation in this location once…what if they can’t do anymore treatment?…what then?…could I really survive another bout of this crap?
I’m quite sure that for anyone who’s gone through the fight against cancer the fear of it returning is more than normal, but for me, this is the first time I’ve really let myself process those anxieties. For the past 8 months I’ve been so absorbed and focused on “getting it done” that I never allowed myself any doubts that I wouldn’t kick this horrible disease in its ugly face! I verbalized my fears to my mom this week. She was gracious with comments that it’s all part of the process…that it would be abnormal not to have some thoughts of a reoccurrence. I’m thankful she listens to my ramblings without judgement or trying to shoosh them away with empty promises of a brilliant health for years to come.
That’s when I picked up a book recommended to me by my roommate. The story of a young woman who was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 22, a former basketball player, in the prime of her life, merely months away from her college graduation, in the best physical shape of her life when she received “the call.” Her own mother was fighting a battle against breast cancer at the same time she was receiving chemo treatments. Oddly enough, the thing that affected me the most about her story was her description of all the support she had during treatment. I found myself envious of her as page after page she described each individual who came to her side, ending every paragraph with “she would do anything for me.”
I say this not to discount those who were there, because those who showed up were amazing and attentive and more than I could have asked for…but to say that you truly learn who is in your court during your most desperate moments is an understatement. When diagnosed with cancer, you expect to lose certain things: some weight, maybe some hair, for me I expected to lose my saliva, my taste, my ability to eat and swallow correctly, maybe some speech, but never in a million years, did I think that by having cancer I would lose my closest friends. A romantic relationship just newly formed weeks prior to my diagnosis did not stand up to the pressure of this illness…friends, those I considered extended family were nowhere to be found…and all the promises of being by my side through it all were met with an absence that spoke otherwise…not that I blame him or them…Cancer is messy and time-consuming and drains the energy of those brave enough to take more than just a peek into the situation. It demands unconventional hours, a willingness to clean up vomit in the middle of the night, drives to endless appointments, stays in the uncomfortable hospital chairs, feeding tubes in awkward places, hours of silence when there’s nothing more to be said and a strong spirit when the patient needs more than you can give…it’s dirty, it’s filled with disgusting medical procedures and side effects most don’t want to read about…it’s reality…it’s my reality.
I’ve tried my best to forgive those who have walked out of my life, but as with any loss, I’ve had to grieve those relationships and some days as it did this week, that sadness creeps back in and I have to deal with it all over again. I try to convince myself that they were just busy, or the therapist in me tries to excuse their behavior with a weak, “Some people just don’t know how to deal with this type of thing. Maybe they just didn’t know what to say.”…but mostly I’ve questioned why I wasn’t enough for them to stay. I go over and over in my head and try to figure out how things went from a place where I would do anything for that person to never hearing from them again. I think about the thousands of hours spent in intimate conversation to the deafening quiet on the other end of the telephone.
No matter how many ways I try to twist it, it still just hurts, so the best I can do at this point is acknowledge my losses, grieve them and learn from my own pain. I can be ever so thankful for those who did stick around and for those I never thought in a million years would become my support system. I can cherish the new relationships that have grown through the past several months and build a new foundation!
I know I will not be the last person to experience heartache, I will meet others in my situation, I will hear of marriages gone bad, homes lost to lack of finances, health that is deteriorating, loss of jobs and family members and friends who are unable to conceive…and when that time comes, I will need to step in, hold on for the wild ride and share in their good…their bad…and their ugly.