Friday, January 25, 2013

If Wishes Were Horses, Survivors Might Ride Them

Photo: © 2013  - Why Not Associates Limited
Consider this a coming out of sorts.

It’s taken me a long time to find the confidence to write about the last year of my life. On some level I felt that by writing about it I was somehow inviting bad luck. I think about cancer all of the time. I avoid talk of the future. Like some sorry, middle-aged Charlie Brown, I mope around, telling friends that I might not be here 20, 10, even 5 years from now. I have no medical basis for this other than the fact that I have had cancer. It’s the fear coming out. I say whatever I think might help me prepare for the worst should the worst become my reality.

The problem is I don’t face my current reality. That I am here, I have had cancer and it has changed everything. I’m reasonable enough to understand that I should be living my life. I’m told that as far as my medical team can know I’m now cancer free.  But even writing (or thinking) that is hard. There’s a twinge of pain – is it a tumor?  I am told that as far as we know I’m now cancer free – saying it feels like I’m jinxing myself. Survivor? I can’t embrace that as my reality without feeling that I should be looking over my shoulder.

Cancer has changed everything. And yet, I am still so much the person I was before. This fear? It’s not new; it just has a new face. The way I eat (poorly), sleep (fitfully), and waste my free time (liberally) hasn’t changed. I still procrastinate, only now it feels like I’m frittering away borrowed time.

And that’s the thing about cancer – it takes so much away, yet unless, god forbid, it is end stage, you still have to live your life. You still have to function – working, commuting, cooking, cleaning, helping the kids with their homework, fighting over money, walking the dog. You don’t have any trouble finding things to make you cry. After cancer everything brings tears. But you do find ways to laugh as well. People who have never experienced cancer often don’t get that. For many, life as we know it goes on, even while we take the steps needed to fight cancer. I worked fulltime while in chemo. I worked fulltime during 7 weeks of daily radiation. I don’t say this to applaud myself. I say it to show that, as terrifying and consuming as a cancer diagnosis is, there is still more. I am more.

This brings to mind a meme that is going around Facebook. It basically reads that most people have an endless parade of wishes-- to be richer, thinner, younger. To have a new car or house... you get the gist. But those who have cancer have only one wish-- to beat cancer. I can state first hand that this so over simplifies the cancer experience that it's insulting. Yes, you wish to beat cancer. But you also wish for the memory of the day you first heard your diagnosis to go away. You wish for the pain from your surgery to go away. You wish for your hair to grow back. For your nails not to be black from chemo anymore. For your skin not to be burnt and peeling from radiation treatments. You wish to feel pretty again. Though you would never have wanted to go through this when you were younger, you wish you were young enough to sport a bald head and have it be seen as rebellious or edgy or chic.

Once you've "beat" it, you wish not to be living in fear that it might return. You're thankful to hear a doctor in whom you have faith tell you there is no detectable cancer remaining, but you wish he could use the word “cured”. You wish there was a diagnostic tool that could detect rogue cancer cells in your organs or bones no matter how microscopic. You wish there was a tool even more powerful than chemo to obliterate said cells should they exist. You wish you could just be happy with your current prognosis and stop worrying about what-ifs.

And because the human mind is a complex thing, you still wish to be richer, thinner and smarter. You still wish to be loved. You still wish to get laid. You wish for your children to do well in school. You wish the cat would stop pissing on the carpet. You wish it would snow. You still wish for all the things everyone else wishes for.

And this -- you wish for your life before your experience with cancer. You wish you had appreciated it more. You are grateful, so grateful, to be here, but you mourn the loss of your pre-cancer innocence every single day.

23 comments:

  1. That was beautiful and powerful. Thank you for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I am deeply moved by what you wrote, but the sentence below is stil reverberating in my soul.

    "I say it to show that, as terrifying and consuming as a cancer diagnosis is, there is still more. I am more."

    Thank You

    ReplyDelete
  3. hey there, I read your blog redirected from Jason. I hope you write some more. My husband had cancer more than 12 years ago and describes some of the same feelings. He says that the only good thing about it is that it helps to simplify what is important. I also could do without the cat piss.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Beautiful, thank you for sharing that with us!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Tiff-This is so inspiring. You make me want to put into words how much has changed since a certain little girl was born 6 years ago.
    Love you.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thank you all for the support. Now if I can just turn off the TV and write...

    ReplyDelete
  7. My Mom didn't make it. I am glad for you and your family that you did :-)

    ReplyDelete
  8. It's a good article. It showcases a lot of the reasons why cancer survivors are challenged in so many ways, and it helps me understand a lot of things about current friends and deceased mentors that I didn't understand before. And it opens my eyes to a way of thinking that — of course — I hope I never have to experience personally, but that I now have the ability to understand, thanks to your words. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  9. As one who is dealing with the fear of a possible cancer diagnosis, I greatly appreciate you sharing your perspective of living life with this experience. I'm so pleased you are here.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm sorry to hear that, Rose. I hope everything turns out ok. Stay strong.

      Delete
  10. My mother went through breast cancer a few years ago and caught it on time. It was nerve racking and tension ran my life for over a year. I have always believed that one must battle emotionally,mentally, and spiritually to obtain the desired result and win through this with the right attitude. You have a stranger over here in Miami knowing you will succeed in any outcome. Belief is the golden key.

    Xavier

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. I'm glad your mother is doing well.

      Delete
  11. Thank you for sharing. This is moving, powerful and precious on so many levels... Again, thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  12. You wrote what's in my heart. I too am a recent cancer survivor: stage 3 lymphoma. I just got done shouting at the mirror, "what the hell happened to my hair and why does it look like Albert Einstein's hair?" I think I got mugged at the chemo place. The stole my beautiful hair and replaced my brain with someone else's!
    Wishing for you...joy and peace and much love. Yes, even from the cat.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know how you feel. When my hair starting coming out I had my mom shave my head. Now I have a great head of curly hair. You will look in the mirror one day soon and see the cutest, softest little baby hair, I swear!

      Delete
  13. So glad that you have come out of this situation and have the chance to share with us. As one other poster stated, my mom didn't survive the cancer she had. I went thru every emotion with her, about her, and because of her. I cannot express what it would have meant for her to still be here with me. Please continue to know that we wish you health and wellness, Tiffany.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I don't have a cancer experience but I do know something about life-changing experience. Twenty three years ago I was pregnant with my first child, full of all the excitement and hope that comes with your first pregnancy. All the plans, the dreams. Then she came early, in a rush of doctors and machines that could do nothing, until they handed me a bundle in a blanket and I held her until she said goodbye. I was forever changed by that experience. My body had betrayed me, betrayed my child, had become the enemy in so many ways. When my next daughter was born, every sniffle, every fever when she was little, every time she was out past curfew when she was older, were all reminders that unimaginable love for my daughter was dogged by the threat of potential loss. But on the heels of that feeling, each time, was the sharp reminder that every moment, every joy, every argument, was epic in its significance. I guess the message I have is this, you don't lose your innocence after an experience such as yours and mine. You trade it. You trade it for a visceral appreciation others will struggle to understand. I wish you health and peace :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My heart goes out you. That must have been so difficult. Thank you for sharing. You are right, it is a trade off.

      Delete