Sometimes I am able to step outside myself, for just a few seconds, and view my story like a bystander. HOLY SHIT. Wait, what? H-O-L-Y SHIT. You had how many? And THEN chemo…?” I can feel the horror, the near disbelief, the shock I’d feel for someone telling me this story. This story that’s mine.
And then it’s gone. And I try to think about it from someone else’s perspective again and I can’t.
All I can see is the view from inside. Which, don’t get me wrong, can feel pretty crappy sometimes. But overall, it doesn’t FEEL as bad as it sounds. Mostly it feels like a bad dream. Fuzzy around the edges of my memory – but fading by the end of day like most nightmares that wake us up in a sticky sweat.
Some days, the nightmare stays with me a bit longer. Other days, I nearly forget about it. Good days and bad days like everyone else. My highs and lows may be a bit more extreme than others right now but I can see the pendulum slowing down to an average day’s emotional norm. I still have a lot of processing to do. I know that. There was too much loss this past year to not grieve. But for some reason, it feels manageable. I guess this is one upside to getting older: feeling resilient.
Being resilient and being upbeat, however, are two different things. And people continue to ask me: how have you stayed so positive?
I’m curious about the answer myself.
Maybe it’s because I know (hope?) this happened for a reason – that it will result in me helping others in some way. Similar to how ulcerative colitis at age 17 landed me in the wonderful field of culinary education and working with kids. Totally worth the pain I went through. I love what I do.
Maybe it’s because my dad, sister, uncle, and many other family members have been through the same thing. Our cursed genes making this into some cruel rite of passage.
I kid you not, right after I wrote the above passage, my dad and I started chatting. Within minutes, we’re comparing our scars, bragging about our work outs, and what we’re able to digest.
This is our normal.
Maybe because it’s because I managed to stay physically strong – taking a page from my dad and walking laps in the hospital and now on a treadmill. Feeling strong keeps my brain happy. This helps me have lots of good days now. I can have a full day, several in a row, and not feel that murky undertow of fatigue waiting to pull me under until evening. Though, I still can’t do a full day and a full evening. A full day wipes me out, lands me in bed, in my pajamas as early as 7pm. But still, I get lots of good days now – and I cherish them.
Maybe it’s because I’m lucky to have access to natural medicine and recover so quickly. Three months out, I have a hairdo that almost looks on purpose, eyebrows, eyelashes, and nearly normal fingernails (they said it would take 6-12 months!). Neuropathy shows up for a spell every couple of weeks but even then, is hardly painful (others have it for years).
Maybe it’s because I feel like myself again. It’s like being away from your beloved home for months and months and all you want to do is sink into your own bed. That’s what it’s like to have your body and brain come back online after chemo. I feel like I’m at home again.
Maybe it’s because I get a do-over. A fresh start in a lot of ways. The cancer stripped me bare, shorn my hair, left me three organs lighter. Which sucks, of course. But it also means I get to reinvent myself. I love reinventing myself. It’s why I became an explorer of the world and have lived a mostly nomadic life.
Once again, I’m exploring new territory – but it has nothing to do with geography. I look in the mirror at this new woman and I don’t know her. But I do. It’s hard to explain. She is the woman I’ve always been but she is also a stranger. She has lived something few have, an adventure most avoid at all costs or don’t live to tell the tale.
She is also the woman I’ve always aspired to be. Tough, humbled, empathetic, fearless, joyful. She has been to hell and back. And now understands – on a deeply fundamental level – that life is never what you expect it to be. Strangely, this new perspective is much more liberating and less scary than I thought it would be. I finally get it now: life is just one, long unplanned adventure fill with both beautiful moments and terrifying ones. Some people will run into a tiger and shit their pants with fear. Others will stare in awe and wonder how lucky they were to get so close to this dangerous, majestic animal. It’s all about perspective.
I think it’s this perspective that’s carried me though the year. There are those moments where I feel the horror and sadness. But then, I stop myself. And remember how lucky I am to, hopefully, transform this experience into a something that will help others. And how lucky I am to have all these awesome people in my life. Most of all, I know how lucky I am to still continue on this adventure - so many others don’t get that privilege. Beautiful, terrifying, majestic, scary – that is life. I guess I’ve learned how much I can handle – which, as it turns out, is quite a lot. Bring it on, Life. I can do this.