I remember a day not long after diagnosis when I was driving away from the hospital, away from the Cancer Centre, where I had been at one of a gazillion appointments. The focus was, of course, how to keep me alive – kind of the point of cancer treatment. When I went to turn left onto one of the main arteries a car came out of nowhere and I narrowly missed a massive collision. I remember swerving, slamming on the brakes, and immediately pulling over because my hands were shaking too much to hold the wheel. And I remember falling apart. Feeling like maybe it didn’t matter what I did. Maybe my ticket was, simply, ‘up’. Maybe it was all out of my hands. That everything I was doing to treat my cancer was going to be futile anyway, because this was all some bigger-than-me cosmic joke. This thought left me in one of those can’t-breathe-god-I-wish-I-wasn’t-publicly-crying places that no one likes. You know the ones – where you want to acquire some sort of sparkly-red-shoe power that will allow you to click your heels together and disappear onto the floor of the corner of your kitchen, because that’s your safe place and no one will watch you get messy with snot and tears.
I pulled it together pretty quickly that day and managed to be on my way home, physically shaking my head to banish that thought and any more of its nature from my brain. I have continued to use this head-shaking strategy over the course of the last year, moving steadily forward and often employing the tactic of purposeful denial to shelter myself from that dark kind of fatalism.
It’s come back as of late. Since this reconstruction fail, I seem to be spiralling a bit. I’m conscious of it. I’m trying to stop it from happening. I’m talking it out. I’m trying to get out of my house. I’m finding the funny in all of this, when I can. But complications in healing are frustrating me. It would appear that skin that has been operated, radiated, stretched to transparency and then cut into three times in two months isn’t super fantastic at healing.
And so I am stuck. Stuck in a place where I cannot move forward because every time I look in the mirror I see ‘freshly-operated’. Stitches still in, after over 3 weeks. Still limiting activity. Still not getting outside and walking because, despite what the surgeons hoped, I wasn’t all better in a week and the go-ahead to ‘resume normal activities’ has been revoked. I am cranky. The combination of next-to-no sleep and never-ending-winter (I know I’m not alone here!) and physical discomfort and loss have me finding it difficult to be around people a lot. Overwhelmed really easily by noise and movement and crowds. Unsure about entering into conversation with anyone about how I’m doing, because I’m not okay. Sometimes I’m up enough to make it funny – crack jokes about how I have to fatten up for surgery, or talk about the serious (SERIOUSLY!) need for some sexy post-mastectomy lingerie and swimwear in this city / country / on this continent. (I am currently looking at having mastectomy bikinis sent from the UK.) (There’s a whole other topic for a blog. I’ll get back to it. ) Other times, I’m not so funny. Other times, I get half a sentence out and stop talking because if I continue, I will cry. And nobody likes a cry-baby. Myself included.
So. This afternoon, I sat down and tried to think about what usually helps me put things into perspective. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I think about other people’s ‘shit’. And by ‘shit’, to be clear, I mean the difficulties that other people are facing in their lives right now. The kinds of things that other people are facing that are, for them, as difficult as this is for me, because for them their trials may be the worst they have faced to date. It didn’t take me long to realize that I’m in good company. Without looking very far at all, there are people dealing with fresh diagnoses, juggling fear and children and uncertainty. There are mothers worrying about children, about potential horrors that they may face. There are daughters dealing with the loss of mothers, missing daily interactions in ways I can’t even stomach imagining. There are friends whose parents are ill, and who are too far away from them to help in the way they need to. Brothers, separated from sisters by distance and feeling like they’re in the wrong place. Friends who have found love and are frustrated by geography and circumstance. Marriages that are silent and empty. Marriages that are full of too much noise and anger. Friends learning that they must stop doing what they love the most in order to be healthy. Friends that need to be medicated in order to do what they love. Others that live in constant fear that their world will come crumbling down around them.
My companion likes to remind me that I’m not alone. I know that this isn’t what he means. But that phrase carries much weight.
And in thinking about that, and about the loads that others are carrying around with them, somehow my own doesn’t seem quite so heavy. So I’m going to send out a whole pile of really, really good vibes to those who need them, and open myself up to the ones I know are coming my way, and keep breathing.