Somebody asked me how I am feeling the other day. I answered “okay”. And this person continued to say that what I’m going through is a “Big Deal”. And you know what? It is. Cancer is a big fucking deal.
It’s not about what treatment number I’m on or how I feel at this moment because having cancer is so much more than these facts. Cancer strips you raw of facts. It stabs you right in the emotional gut of your heart, where it aches the most. The ache takes the form of sadness, uncertainty, and fear – this is grief. And it turns out I’m in the heart of it.
Most of the time, I would say, I’m rather bright and cheerful. My energy level is good, I spend time with friends, get out on the farm, take short walks, work a few hours, and I still practice and teach yoga. Mostly this is a time of self-care that I’m grateful for – my physical health and well being come before anything else these days. But this, apparently, is the easy part.
In between the days of smiling and feeling confident about this journey, the raw honest truth is that cancer is a fucking big deal and it really sucks. And despite the full moon or the bright shining sun, chemo weeks only bring darkness to my days.
I’m on treatment 7 of 12, so – yep – we can start the countdown. But the thing is, once the chemo is over, I’m not even close to being done. There is no “done” with cancer. I have 6 years! of follow-up tests until I’m out of the woods of colon cancer.
I overheard a woman complaining earlier this week about how busy and overwhelmed she was with her Master’s program, how she didn’t get days off to spend with her husband, how if she takes a day off it just makes her more swamped with work. But luckily, she said brightly “I love the subject”. I paused. I took a breath. I tried not to let her attitude bug me, and I tried to find empathy within my heart. But at that moment I was heading home to get ready to get pumped with chemotherapy drugs via an implanted port in my chest. I DID NOT CHOOSE cancer. Cancer is not a subject matter that excites me. Rather, it scares the shit out of me. And I will not be “done” with cancer in 1 or 2 years like this woman getting her Masters degree.
July 16th our lives changed. Everything we thought was in our plan has now become unknown accept the love Steve and I have for each other and our commitment to this love. I hope to whatever higher being I believe in that this love is enough. Because right about now, it feels like everything Steve and I have longed for and put our collective energy towards is slipping through our finger tips. And we can’t hold on to it anymore. The home we were planning on building this fall is now on hold. We hope it will happen in the spring, but last month I was laid off from my job at Cornell so our financial future is unknown. We have begun to reassess our farm plans and goals and decide what changes we need to make; expand, downsize, something else? Last week we were told that my ability to birth a child is possibly significantly compromised because of the chemotherapy. We won’t truly know for years.
I wonder as I can’t fall asleep; How did I, how do we as individuals let ourselves go through life bitching about things that we have to do or that are happening to us that are totally under our control – choices we actually made for ourselves? We all do it. And those around us accept it, but now this seems lame. If we make choices, we should take responsibility for these choices. It doesn’t mean things won’t be hard – they will be – or you can’t take a few steps back and choose a different path, but bitching through the journey isn’t productive for anybody. Nobody made this woman sign up for a higher degree. And who doesn’t want their education to be challenging? Isn’t that exactly what a graduate student wants – to be challenged, inspired, to work hard and to learn new things about a topic you love? How can this woman bitch about this? I’m not saying I’ve never complained about things I can control, I certainly have! But I’ll tell you – having cancer sheds new perspective on reality. It sheds light on what is controllable and what isn’t. It brings clarity to what is worth expending energy on and what is a waste of emotions. I hope this is a perspective that sticks with me for the long haul.
Little is known when you’re on the cancer path. There are very few “choices” you get to make once you’re diagnosed. Chemo treatments: 12. Chemo drugs: 5. Surgeries: 4. There are no choices on these things. You hope to see friends today but you’re nauseous so your day now involves lying on the couch and hoping the pill you took makes the funny feeling in your gut go away. Typically, the nausea goes away but the ache in the gut seems to be around for the long haul.