“People give you 3 months to mourn, and a year to have cancer, then they expect you to get back to normal.”
I don’t know where I heard this quote first, but I’ve experienced the truth of the statement both in terms of mourning and cancer recovery.
It’s not that I’m faced with the reality of that quote on a daily basis, but it does remind me that while the lingering effects of my cancer still impact every single day of my life, many around me have moved on; my cancer is old news and in their minds, overplayed.
I understand this perspective; I’ve been there myself. I know people whom I’ve avoided because every conversation, for years, involved detailed information about the wellbeing of their bladder or their gout.
It does get old, and frankly, there are some details I just don’t need to know.
I do try to avoid being that person who unloads in that manner, but the fact that cancer is still a part of my present life is depressing to others, as well. People want good news. Something better than “I was able to hold on to my pen long enough to write a whole page,” which is a big deal to me as a writer and avid journal keeper whose dominant arm was significantly impacted by cancer treatment, but not so meaningful to everyone else.
I don’t talk about those things anymore. I swallow my words, and put on a mask, and when people ask how I’m doing, I just say “awesome” and leave it at that.
This is where a group like the Young Survival Coalition, and a retreat like Harmony Hill, are so critical to the wellbeing of a cancer survivor like me. It’s not just a retreat away from the stresses of everyday life, it’s a coming together with other women with similar experiences and battle scars. A three day weekend where we can compare notes, treatments, ongoing issues, what works for me, what doesn’t, and how we’re coping with all of it is not just healing, it’s normalizing – in a good way.
We’re not alone in this experience. We can share without the fear of being perceived as complaining. We can make fun of our condition and laugh at cancer in a way that often makes others uncomfortable. It’s summer camp crossed with a slumber party, plus booze and minus the curfew. It’s yoga, meditation, labyrinth walking, beach combing, flower smelling, and lawn napping, followed by good food, good conversation, and tearing the best parts out of magazines for each of us to make something uniquely our own.
And it’s research. I’m looking forward to another surgery in the next few months. This one will involve 12 hours under the knife – that’s a long time – plus six weeks of recovery. It’s not something to take lightly. But I spent a weekend with 23 other cancer survivors, most of whom have already endured this surgery. I got better information on what to expect and how to prepare from these women who already went through it than from the doctor who has performed this procedure hundreds of times. And that’s to be expected. As much as these doctors know about performing this procedure, they haven’t experienced it.
I’m so thankful I have this group of survivors in my life. That we got to get away together, away from all the other stresses and demands of life for a couple days seems like a miracle. I know it took a lot of work to pull it together, but it was so worth it. I love you girls.
I am so unproductive right now. But that’s alright.
I spent the weekend on a getaway with good friends (very relaxing), and then I tried to jump right back in to everything when I got back home. That was quickly followed by a nasty cold that sent me running to bed, and hiding from the light.
Maybe my body is telling me to just chill out. I don’t always have to be productive. I don’t have any looming deadlines outside of those I assign myself (including these weekly posts). Time to lighten up a bit and relax.
“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”
This weekend, I’m planning on making a few laps around this tree with that thought in mind. This labyrinth, and the Harmony Hill retreat center where it resides, is one of my favorite places in all of Washington. I’m also planning on spending my days doing yoga and soaking in the beauty of hood canal, followed by nights filled with girl talk, laughter, and the 3 Bs: booze, B-movies, and contraband bacon.
And boobs. There is always talk about boobs. It’s de rigueur at a getaway for young women with breast cancer.
I’m hoping a weekend away with women who know exactly what I’m going through is just what I need – a lot of fun. It sure was last year. And this year – no homework!
I’m just not at a point where I can talk about it all. It’s just so much…
So much what does this cancer diagnosis mean to the rest of my life? to what extent will I let it define me? what do I want to do when I grow up? will it have something to do with cancer? should I change my major? what is the meaning of life, the universe, and everything? does it even matter? where are my shoes? how will we pay rent? did I take my pills this morning, or was that yesterday? who am I? who are you? will Lizzie and Mr. Darcy ever work things out?
In spite of all of that, I still have this…
the meaning of life, the universe, and everything is such a small thing compared to the beauty of my little girl in a swing. Pondering can wait; it’s time to play.
Those were the words I wrote without thinking: “a relearning how to dream after cancer blog.” I was shocked when I looked back and saw that I described my blog in this manner. Since writing the post, I’ve gone back and stared at those words countless times. To be honest, the words make me a little uncomfortable. Those hastily written words contain truths I didn’t realize were simmering under the surface.
Friday Night I found myself on stage at Courage Night as one of five women reading our work about surviving cancer. In the Q&A session, as I was describing how my blog had evolved, I recited this line from that blog post: “CoffeeJitters has been a single girl making her way in the world blog, a wedding blog, an infertility blog, a photography blog, a quitting my job and going back to school full time blog, a wow! I’m pregnant! blog, a mommy blog, a cancer blog, ….” except I swallowed the words “a relearning how to dream after cancer blog.”
No, in a room full of cancer survivors, women I love and trust, and who understand better than any one else, I could barely voice those words I had already published. I’m still not quite sure whether I said them out loud when I was at the mic.
I am currently taking Susannah Conway’s “Blogging from the Heart” class, which is proving to be more magical that I could have ever dreamed. This class is also bringing me face to face with that line – “a trying to relearn how to dream after cancer blog.” She is asking me to dig deep, and think about the purpose of my blog. It is easy to spot the focus on gratitude and appreciation of everyday magic, but this blogging practice is also challenging me to stretch.
Just as a physical injury can leave the body bound up in a tight little ball of muscle, the emotional trauma can have a similar impact on the spirit. Yoga and stretching and movement will little by little improve the flexibility and range of the body, but it’s sometimes painful and frightening. It is work that exists entirely outside of the comfort zone. I’ve reached the point where I understand what I have been intuitively trying to do, yet simultaneously resisting – to improve the flexibility and range of my imagination, of my ability to re-dream my future.
The process is slow and difficult, but looking back I can see how I have gradualy expanded the time frame of my dreams. Since diagnosis, I’ve had trouble imagining my life more than a few weeks or months ahead. Now my dreams stretch as far as five years out. Some day soon, I’ll be able to imagine myself at my daughter’s high school graduation.