But first, a disclaimer: regardless of how I say I feel, what presumed wisdom I may share, or the perspective that I have during the time I’m writing any of these blog posts, I’m still sorting all this out. It’s therapy for me and, consequently, may trend toward the self-indulgent at times. I am acutely aware of the fact that cancer is as different for people as people themselves are different from each other. That’s just how it is.
The person I was four months ago reveals herself to me like a half-stranger. She’s someone I feel like I should know more intimately, but who had so far to go to understand herself that truly knowing her was impossible. I was struggling. My life had too much stuff in it. I did things I didn’t want to do for the sake of not missing out, and invested time in people who weren’t good for me because of history. I felt compelled to make people happy or to have them love me, because I thought they needed me. That was me the day before the cancer news. The me that came next was an awakening of sorts.
I had been practicing, in months before the diagnosis, to live a better life. Maybe deep down I knew something was up, that I had to make changes. I was working out, eating better, meditating, clearing emotional and physical clutter from my life. I was in such a positive, happy overall condition that when I did find out, one of my first thoughts was that there is no way in hell I did all this work for nothing and I was going to manage this…somehow.
In those first few weeks there was heartache and fear and anger. I literally felt like a dead man walking – in fact, strangely, that stupid line from the movie kept adding to my mental soundtrack. Lame. I kept reminding myself during this time that I was processing, that it was a temporary state, and that a new phase would be coming soon. I waited for it, and it did. I have never felt stronger than I did during the next few weeks, working the details of cancer like a mission. Strange things helped me manage this – the memory of overhearing my boss tell someone that I was fearless. I used that one a lot. I had the visual of my aging relatives, my grandma (98) and her sisters, two centenarians, smiling, happy and healthy women. “I’m like them,” I continuously repeated to myself.
I know it sounds crazy, but now, midway through reconstruction, I feel privileged to have had cancer. Not just privileged. I feel like it may have,whether physically or emotionally, saved my life. I am overwhelmed thinking that I may never have come to experience the level of peace I feel today had I not almost lost it. Because my existence hung in the ballast, I cherish the fact that I continue to exist. I am capable of empathy, sympathy and compassion in ways I couldn’t imagine before and, above all, I like myself better.