I have a list of dates clipped to the red file cabinet next to my computer desk. The first line is 12.20.13 – Diagnosis. Each year, I approach this anniversary with a vague unease. It follows hot on the heals of the anniversary of the last day of active treatment – December 11. That is the day that really matters. Each year around the sun without any recurrence is a blessing, a gift.
But, I’ve been in a funk and have had a hard time looking on the bright side of survivorship. Yes, I’m glad to be alive; however, the life I’m currently living is a far cry from the life I had imagined I’d be living in my mid-fifties. I have always been healthy and get impatient with illness. If I get a cold or the flu, I just want to be left alone so I can lie in bed and float in and out of sleep, resurfacing when I feel close to well. But, I suppose more than anything, I don’t like being weak anymore than I like crying in front of people. It’s just me. My perception of illness and weakness. I know there are plenty of strong-willed people with chronic diseases or disabilities. And now, I am one of them.
Prior to being diagnosed with cancer, if I had a swollen gland (lymph node) in my neck, I didn’t think my cancer had recurred and metastasized to my brain. Prior to being diagnosed with cancer, if I had a sore back from doing 80 massages a week (hyperbole), I didn’t think my cancer had recurred and metastasized to my bones. Prior to being diagnosed with cancer, if I had a sore throat and cough that lingered for a few weeks, I didn’t think my cancer had recurred and metastasized to my lungs. Prior to being diagnosed with cancer, if I had any new and different physical issue, I didn’t think about it much at all. It would pass. I was healthy. I was whole.
Now I am healthy with an asterisk. Healthy*. * = hopefully. I am no longer whole. I lost a breast, two Fallopian tubes, two ovaries, some self-esteem, and a great deal of gentleness. I find myself hardening, becoming brittle, dried out, a husk of my former fun and sensual self.
I intentionally did not date much when Jake was little and when we moved to Wisconsin, dating became a non-issue for the most part. It seemed like the people who got divorced up here, just hooked up with other divorced people they already knew. It reminded me of watching the kids at Jake’s high school cycle through a very small pool of “eligible” kids which meant that the same few boys dated the same few girls. This probably happens in a lot of schools; it was just more obvious with his class since there were only 125 students in his graduating class. So, Jake and I have had about the same amount of success dating in Wisconsin. I had imagined that I would be free to date when Jake went to college. What really happened is that I was free to have a mastectomy and radiation. There were plenty of people who saw my naked breast(s), but none of them with any intent other than to poke, prod, shift, remove, or zap.
The other day on Facebook, I bemoaned the lack of market for one-breasted women. A couple of girlfriends pushed back and called me out on my comments. I said I had to re-frame my inner dialogue. They agreed. I do. I need a mental rubber band that I can snap whenever my mind goes doom-and-gloom. In addition to not liking illness, I’m also not a big fan of self-pity and I’ve probably been indulging in it. Part of the problem – and a great problem to have – is that I’m writing a memoir about my cancer. So, I need to finish it pronto so that I can stop reliving the cancer stuff over and over every day. I’d like to close the chapter on that part of my life. I want to get to the part of my life that includes travel, a beau, writing full time.
I want to get to December 20th and not think about the anniversary of my diagnosis. I want to think that it is the eve of the Winter Solstice and that the darkest day of the year will soon pass and each day will be a little lighter and brighter.
My goals for this year are to actually take time to live, not just exist. If the ice caves develop, I’m heading north to see them. I’ll run a race or two, maybe someplace new. Jake will graduate in May. If he wants to take a trip with me, great. If not, I’m throwing a dart at a map and checking out a new destination. I’d like to work on being more kind – to myself and everyone else. My primary goal is to finish my cancer memoir and go about the business of getting it published. I’ll keep visualizing book signings to crowded rooms – with any luck I won’t drop the F bomb – too often. I see stacks of my memoir on the table and I’m signing the books and people (probably mainly women) will be telling me how much they laughed and cried. I’m going to focus on the good in my life and not be brought down by my own inner paranoia or the more generalized unease I feel when I think about current affairs.
So, this year, and every year forward, the winter solstice brings me the promise of a renewed life and the ability to set new goals and re-frame my thoughts so that they are more aligned with me and my purpose. It allows me to reflect on the blessings in my life – my family and friends who are patient and supportive of me, my dogs (currently one – but there will be more), my readers and publishers, and my medical team who have helped me achieve each anniversary.