I need to write about how I’m feeling – it ain’t narcissism, well mostly not – it’s about the surprise I’m feeling at how I’m feeling.
And because I now have three friends fighting cancer, all of them in their 40s, and all of them - I’m guessing here, since it’s different for everyone - trying to wrestle their emotions and bodies back into balance, to keep a grip on who they are.
I wanted to send a message from the other side of healing.
One of the most difficult feelings I felt when I was diagnosed with breast cancer was that the me that was me, was over – I grieved the loss of normal – the worry of being late somewhere, or losing my favourite scarf, or burning my toast. That was done.
I got tired of not going a week without some type of doctor’s appointment. I hated knowing the terminology that was now embedded in me, literally – a PICC line, steroids, epirubicin, WBC (white blood cells) – I hated getting tattooed for radiation treatments, I hated getting into the routine of blood tests for my oncologist, and that was beaten only by the idea of having an oncologist. And a surgeon. And a radiation oncologist. I loved my nurses but I hated having to know them by name. I grew to know my oncology nurse’s phone number by heart, not by choice.
I didn’t want to be treated like a patient. And it’s understandable that people do, especially when you lose your hair – in fact in the last half of six treatments you lose your eyebrows and eyelashes – and that’s when you really look like a cancer patient. I didn’t feel like one on the inside, but on the outside I looked like a barren landscape. I also lost my nose hair, which I’d never had a close relationship with, until it was gone and my life through winter consisted of whole boxes of Kleenex, because there was nothing to keep my nose from running. Funnily enough, my doctors treated me the most normally – because this was their normal.
I worried about Steve and I and our new life after cancer.
And I worried about the responsibility of having a new life after cancer.
I worried more about what if it came back?
I still worry about that – who wouldn’t? But last week marked the third anniversary of my surgery and I don’t know how I got here. It just happened. Life, I mean.
I still don’t feel normal enough to freak out about burnt toast, or an unmade bed, although I have mounted an unrelenting campaign for a dishwasher, because I hate washing dishes. That’s normal. And I hate meetings. That's uber normal. I have hot flashes now, that's a new kind of normal. My hair is back and once I was through my curly poodle new hair, it went back to "normal". I see my oncologist once every six months, my surgeon only once a year.
I also fell into beauty. That was one of the gifts of being ill. And it didn't fade when I was through. I see beauty everywhere. I want to devour it and coat my insides with it. And I love to share it.
And on the train coming home tonight, from my extremely busy job, with my extremely nice team, I thought…I still think about cancer probably every day…but it’s not choking me like it did. It drifts and leaves. Time is remarkable. I’m different. That’s okay.
And when I got home, I was happy to see yes, I had made the bed this morning.
So I think I do have the hope of normal. We all do.