One Year Post Chemo
I’ve been finished with treatment for a year now. I’ve sat down and written three whole essays on this subject that I have failed to post. The problem, as I see it, is that I’m tired of making people sad just by simply being a person with cancer, or by being a person who is still emotionally struggling post-cancer. People look at me all bright-eyed and excited asking me how I’m doing, expecting that I’m going to say AWESOME because I don’t have to go through treatment anymore. And that’s what I want to say. I want to say I’m doing awesome.
In many ways, I AM doing well. If I zoom out and looked at the big picture, I’m generally happy with my life and rebounding health. I’ve been able to meet a lot of goals that I wasn’t sure I was going to get the chance to accomplish. I recently picked up Mark’s ukulele and I’ve been practicing obsessively for the past month. I adore the family that has employed me as their nanny, so much so that I look forward to Mondays and jump out of bed in the morning with a smile of excitement on my face. My art is doing well. The magazine I’ve been working on is coming along and I have so many talented people graciously giving their time to help make it great. There is a lot of good in my life, and I am happy.
Simultaneously, I am also still in the clutches of a post-cancer mind and body. It doesn’t matter what type of cancer you have, the body has a memory of the pain and suffering of treatment that no amount of knowledge can shake. I may KNOW that treatment is over, but my body doesn’t possess the ability to know things by language. It can only know by action, and so I have to patiently wait for it to recognize that treatment is over and it doesn’t have to fear being under that level of stress at any moment. It tells me it’s fears constantly. I have a scratch in my throat, “IT MUST BE THROAT CANCER!” I have a small headache, “IT MUST BE A BRAIN TUMOR!” My fingers hurt from playing the ukulele for too long, “IT MUST BE HAND CANCER.”
No, dear body, it’s not hand cancer. As much as I want the voices of fear to stop nagging me, I can’t turn them off. I’ve seen and experienced the damage of stuffing negative emotions, and this of all times has to be the worst time to pretend I have nothing to fear. I much prefer facing my emotions head on and feeling the negative emotions as deeply as I can handle. I’ve had quite a few people tell me, “Your cancer isn’t coming back.” I appreciate that no one, least of all me, wants my cancer to return, but I can’t lie to myself like that. Of every type of cancer, people with colon cancer are at a greater risk for the return of cancer somewhere else in the body. If I tell myself the cancer isn’t coming back, I’m at risk to start acting as if it won’t. With that level of confidence over my future health, I might be less strict about what I eat or don’t eat, and all the other ways I can contribute to a healthy or unhealthy body. With the knowledge of my higher risk, and the fact that I have no guarantee, it is in my best interest to do everything I can to take care of myself. Negative emotions may be difficult to live with, but they do not exist to be ignored. They exist to be a message to us of what our bodies and minds need to be healthy.
As I hold out my hands, in one I hold the emotions of happiness and contentment, and in the other I hold fear and anxiety. Neither depends on the other to exist or not exist. Emotions exist as independently as strangers in a crowded room. The existence of one person does not automatically equate to the disappearance of another. I can feel happiness and sadness at the same time, and that is where I am right now. I have the happiness I have cultivated by putting my mind to the task, and I have the fears and stress that linger from cancer. With time I know my body will come to feel safer and think less on whether a stubbed toe means I have foot cancer. Until then I remain here, feeling emotionally taxed on a daily basis. I’m content being in this state, because it feels like I’m doing the right thing by allowing myself to feel and process all of these emotions. Optimism is not putting on a happy face and pretending suffering doesn’t exist. It is the act of kindness, when you enter your room of strangers and give Fear and Happiness an equal amount of time and respect. Allow Fear to feel heard, let Happiness feel accepted. When all emotions feel welcome to exist in moderation, a sense of harmony takes over and allows for the opportunity and confidence to choose to view life with hopefulness.
That’s my super heavy and overly dramatic way of saying I’m just okay, and I’m quite content with being just okay.