God grant me…the serenity. This seems to be my constant prayer these days. A drive for serenity. A disposition free from stress or emotion; calmness; tranquility. I find myself battling this overwhelming pressure of sadness. It creeps up on me during the most unexpected and inconvenient of times. I can be perfectly content and happy one minute and then this release of an inconsolable depression sweeps over me. It drives me towards isolation and an escape from the reality of my current situation. It numbs me in the very place that I want more than anything to feel…my heart. I try desperately to talk myself out of it, to coach myself to keep it moving, to reach out to others for support, but then the gnawing fears begin their endless trek through my mind and ultimately win me over. My normal personality; however, is one of get it fixed, get it taken care of, do whatever and speak to whomever is necessary for these feelings to go away. I want to identify the problem and work towards the solution. So I called the American Cancer Society for a referral.
I went to my first cancer support group a couple of weeks ago. As I sat across the table from the other women in the room, I noticed immediately their lack of hair…their barely-there bodies, the months of chemotherapy that had claimed pound after pound of their weight…and then they spoke. Minute after minute, phrase after phrase, recounting the horrors of their experience, the trauma of treatment and the debilitating anxiety and depression that now plagues their days. I listened as each woman explained the constant worries that their cancer will return, and the thought that no matter what they do their lives will never be the same. I sat in silence as one woman told of her diagnosis of three major types of cancer throughout the past 40 years and how the woman on my left fought a gallant battle against breast cancer in 2004, only to have it return in 2008, by which time it had spread to most of her body. Then came my turn. The young girl with the full head of hair…the one that “looks so good.” They all sat quietly while I described my own fight.
Part of me wondered if they felt like I had cheated the system. They looked at me in disbelief that anything was really wrong until I showed them my scar…the one that reaches from just below my left earlobe and extends to under my chin. The scar that no one else seems to notice because of my haircut, but the one that I see immediately every time I look in the mirror. Their responses of, “Oh I didn’t even see it until you pointed it out,” should have brought comfort, but oddly enough, it never does. They looked at me with mock sympathy as I talked about losing a portion of my hair…most people don’t know that was a struggle, because my hair loss occurred underneath the top layer. Everyday my hair grows back a little longer and most days, I instinctively reach my hand up to feel the silky soft strands and remember with clarity the days in the shower that another clump of dark hair exited my scalp. They were polite while I shared, but deep inside I felt like they were casting stones, like I wasn’t quite “one of them.”
Or maybe it’s me who feels like the traitor. The one out-of-place. Maybe it was merely my own guilt over having survived the battle that not everyone does…the battle that most of the women in that room may not overcome. There’s a lot to be said for survivor’s guilt. You spend all of your time and energy focused on fighting, that when you do actually fight it…and your once chaotic schedule of treatment turns into day after day of quiet rehabilitation, you begin to forget how hard it actually was…you begin to question if it was really all that bad. And then those around you begin to call a little less, and as your schedule looms in front of you…day after day without a routine, you start to wonder if you’re just not as strong as all the rest…maybe going back to work would be a good idea, but after a random full 8 hour day of constant activity, there’s not much energy left for the rest of the week and then that familiar wave of weakness hits you again.
And then I remind myself that there’s still the issue of the feeding tube…my inability to eat enough on my own to sustain myself should the tube be removed…I remember that even though everyone says I look good, they don’t know that the war is still raging…they can’t feel the way my tongue feels like it’s out of sorts in my mouth, they can’t know that I still choke when I try to swallow food or that even though I love strawberry-banana smoothies, the way those little seeds from a berry seem to find the one spot in the floor of my mouth where they cause the most pain, makes me think twice before blending my favorite drink…they don’t know that before cancer I had been singing on stage at church since the age of four, or that I performed in front of thousands for my college graduation, but now, as I sing along to the radio, my voice can’t quite reach the notes it once did, and the trauma from the radiation may never allow me to sing in front of others again. They don’t know that everyday I struggle between getting out of bed because I still have a life left to live, yet knowing that there are so many out there who won’t have that option to see another day and that I should feel fortunate. And as I write this, it hits me.
Others can’t know unless I tell them. Isolating myself and allowing depression to consume my days doesn’t fix the problem, it only exacerbates it. Constantly searching for a peaceful state of mind doesn’t always do it…sometimes you have to just take a small step of faith and little by little that peace finds its way home. Sometimes there’s not anything you can do except get out of bed, take a shower and get ready for the day. Sometimes the only thing you can do is accept the things you cannot change and live each day with the knowledge that God DID find fit to bring me through this journey and that what I choose to do with the rest is my gift back to Him.
So today my prayer is simple. God grant me…the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.