Sunday, February 23, 2014
Life After Cancer x2
So I finally feel like I am progressing forward and I am paddling further and further away from that island I call Cancer. Kinda like when you are driving away from some place and you keep looking back - watching it get smaller and smaller until it completely disappears from sight. Of course I can still see it and I know it will be there for a very long time...in the background of my life - but I am finally allowing myself to make plans for the future without fear and am able to talk about things I never let myself say out loud. It really is hard to believe that as I approach my 3rd Cancerversary next week, I am in a good place. It is impossible not to look back over the past three years and not think about all the things that have happened and how those experiences have dramatically altered who I am, how I look and how I live my life today. It´s mind blowing really when you allow yourself to process everything.
Many people make huge life changes after surviving a cancer diagnosis. They quit their job and open their dream B&B in Tuscany or they adopt a completely organic clean lifestyle in every way. Despite the fact that I still eat sugar obsessively (often before 7am!), haven´t thrown caution the wind and followed my dreams and still worry about everything big and little, I am definitely a different person from the woman who walked into that hospital room nearly three years ago. I have learned many lessons and things about myself, about those around me and about life in general. The list is long but if I could highlight the biggest things they would be these:
Time is really the most valuable commodity we have. It doesnt stop for anyone no matter how much money or power you have so use it wisely. And don´t put off doing the things you really want to do. No one ever said on their deathbed - Damn I wish I would have worked more!
Forgive those you love if they have hurt you because at this stage of life, people aren´t going to change that much more so we need to accept them for who they are and enjoy the time we have with them.
Don´t make the people you love feel guilty because everyone is doing the best they can. There is never malice in love so don´t expect the worst in people you know only want the best for you.
Always acknowledge others pain and offer empathy. There is nothing worse then feeling like others dont get how awful you feel - something especially key for those who are chronically ill. I often feel that not a day passes where I don´t have pain or feel poorly and I know it must be frustrating to hear about it all the time but it is also important to recognise how frustrating it is for me too. Not feeling acknowledged just makes one feel worse. I ain´talking about catering to every whimper but just try listen.
Even though you can be afraid of something, silence is far worse then simply letting someone know you are there for them despite not knowing what else to say. Words aren´t always important - but knowing that you aren´t alone is what matters most. I know cancer and serious illness can scare people to the point where they cant even talk about it and want to just run away but think about how you would want to be treated if you were in the same situation. Just validating that this person is going through something intense and difficult is enough - as is a simple "how are you." Ignoring the elephant in the room doesn´t make it disappear.
My bullshit meter is significantly lower then it used to be. I just can´t fake my way through things anymore. When I am angry, I am angry and I will most likely tell you about it and then want to move past it to a better place again.
Grieving loss isn´t just about losing a person.I am grieving the loss of my own innocence, the loss of my two breasts and what I define as feminity, the loss of just being a new mother, the loss of a future without fear of an early death and the loss of a life that I always dreamed I would have. Cancer constantly changes the goal posts and you must adjust your dreams and expectations accordingly. When I thought about the life that I would be living today 4 years ago - I never could have imagined that it would be what it is now. Of course there are wonderful parts of it but I am still grieving many things that I feel have been taken away from me through this experience. Like the fact that I will never have a normal body ever again or that I don´t really know what this cancer will decide to do.
Marriage is not easy. It isn´t easy for anyone (and people are lying if they say otherwise) and it is infinitely harder when you throw an extra set of obstacles into the mix - like moving to a new country, having a baby and then living through cancer together twice - all in less then 5 years. Talk about intense. Cancer has really enabled me to uncover the truths about how to keep a marriage alive. When roles shift from husband and wife to patient and care giver, it really upsets the balance and can be challenging to find your way back. The focus is on the sick person and that can be difficult for the one who must be the rock, the support, the one who has to keep everything ticking over and is rarely asked how they are doing. Many relationships get infected by this disease just as it infects the body and never make it back. You just can never put off the needs of each other regardless of what is going on in your lives. Each person needs to feel loved, listened to and acknowledged - regardless of how tired, frustrated and fed up you are.
Anger. Cancer has made me so much angrier. I get angry at people, situations and things and I am far more vocal about it. Some of it comes from my anger over what has happened to me and how unfair it all has been and I guess it has spiralled out into other aspects of my life. When I see others just not getting the big picture or lacking perspective on things, I want to shake them into reality again. This is not always welcomed as one might imagine but I can´t help doing it. We all complain about so many things and in the process, stop being able to see the really awesome things in our lives. It isn´t about who owes you what (am not talking about money here) or what you feel entitled to, because if you have that viewpoint in the first place, no one will want to do anything for you and you will just become more miserable. It isn´t about what you haven´t done for someone but rather the things that you have done. And it isn´t about the things you do wrong but again - what you have done right. We look for the negatives so often and are so overly critical of ourselves and those in our lives. It is just a sucky way of living and I just can´t be around that negativity as much anymore. Best thing to do is to focus on what is right in your life and you will probably be alot happier because of it.
Being a Mom. Cancer has made me into the most amazing mother that I could have ever imagined being. I put every ounce of energy that I have into being the best version of myself for her. It doesnt matter how awful I have felt or how terrified I have been, I made sure that I was just there for her. In every moment. Cancer took alot from me but it also gave me the gift of extra time with her and it created such an unbelievable relationship and bond between us. She accepts me for who I am and understands without me having to explain. I am her mother. I love her. I brought her into this world with breasts that nourished her and now I no longer have them and to her that is perfectly okay. For her the most important thing is that her mother is here for her every night to tuck her into bed, read her a story, kiss her and tell her I love her to the moon and back.
So my treasure chest of knowledge and insight that I have been able to take away from the single most horrific experience of my life is endless and worth its weight in gold. Maybe that is one of the biggest lessons I have learned...That there is always something good to be taken from every experience you live through or survive, be it good or bad. You just have to be able to see it.
Three years on, two diagnoses later and I am still here...a better version of myself.
Go hug the people you love.