In three months, it will have been five years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I started this blog over four years ago, shortly after acute treatment was finished and I’d returned to work. At first, it was a way to sort out the aftermath and help me convince myself that I’d be okay. It was a way to wrestle the Monster down to a manageable size, to laugh at it, to provide a voice of skepticism and candor in the face of the Positivity Pollyannas whose tyranny did not reflect my reality.
As time went on, the blog became a lot more — a place to research and write about the collateral damage of cancer treatment, to comment on the massive pink merchandising and sexualization of breast cancer, to decipher hype about research findings, and to provide some practical and hopefully useful information for others coping with pain, misery, fatigue, depression and all the other myriad facets of ‘surviving’ cancer and its treatment. It also became a way to pay it forward, to give something back.
The best thing about it is that it became a conversation. It connected me to a remarkable and worldwide community of like-minded souls. That conversation has been hugely nourishing. I’ve made lifelong friends through the blogosphere and social media. I’ve learned a tremendous amount about the strength, love, intelligence and generosity of our online community, and that has helped me keep my sanity.
It also helped me redefine my focus at work. As I visit my homecare patients, the extensive research I’ve undertaken to write so many blog posts provided me with a lot more tools as I’ve provided physical therapy and case management to an increasing number of cancer patients. Four months after I started the blog, I participated in clinical training for oncology rehab. Since then, I’ve participated in a number of research projects as a subject, gone to advocacy seminars, and gained further professional certification for oncology rehab. All the while, I continued to grapple with fatigue, brain fog, daily pain, and even a close encounter with non-invasive colon cancer. Far and away, the most painful struggle has been to come to terms with how many friends have developed metastatic cancer, to mourn the deaths of so many friends from cancer, friends I’ve made through the blogosphere and through my life and work. The sum total of all of this has brought me to a crossroads that has taken me months to define and articulate. It’s still hard to put words to it, but something has changed. I’ve changed. And I need to shift the path I’m on to figure out what it means.
The path I need to choose now is likely to lead me away from blogging for a while. I don’t know for how long. It might be weeks. It might be months. It’s not for lack of subjects to write about or, strictly speaking, for lack of desire to write about them. It’s more that I need to nourish myself differently right now. There’s been nothing light-hearted about the journey I’ve been on. Even at the height of my snarkitude, which has been immensely fun, the burden of carting this cancer freight in my consciousness has been heavy. And growing heavier. I find myself needing to lighten the load for a while, or shift it somehow, so I do not find myself crushed by the weight of it.
Part of what has nourished me for so long by writing this blog has started to deplete me, not nourish me. It’s hard to admit that — it makes me feel like I’m giving up. But I remind myself that the blog is not the only vehicle by which I can pay it forward and help others. I do it at work every day. And for now, that has to be enough. The uber-awareness I’ve developed by writing here needs to be counterbalanced. I had no choice about accepting how much cancer took over my life since 2008. I’ve lost so much of myself since then that I feel almost unrecognizable when I examine what my everyday life has become. But now, it’s time to take back more of those parts of my life that have been on hold. For a long time, I was hard-pressed to do so. The good news is that now I finally feel capable of doing so. That is a sign of healing.
I know that my next doctor visit, my next scan, my next mammogram or lab test or colonoscopy could change things all over again and drop me right back in the ditch. We always live with that possibility. But for now, while I am lucky enough to occupy that magical place known as No Evidence of Disease, I’m going to endeavor, as much as I’m capable of, to live without looking over my shoulder.
In short, I need to remember how to play.
So, I’ve been re-acquainting myself with my sense of wonder. I’ve been trying to repair my social life. I’ve been reconnecting with my inner child, the child I described in my last post, who followed her passions and curiosity, and explored the world. So much of my life has been interior these past five years. Now, it’s time to get outside of myself again. I’m giving myself permission to remember who I am, a woman who is not just a cancer patient.
I want to write just for the sheer pleasure of it, not to make a point or an argument. Not to vent. I want to write about something besides cancer. I want to write more poetry, more stories that are not about grief. I want to make more art and dust off the sewing machine and reorganize my studio and plant flowers. I want to clean my closets, metaphorically and literally. I want to spend more time with the people I love and NOT talk about how I’m feeling in relation to cancer, but in relation to life itself. I want to set up my father’s old telescope and look at the stars. I want to have parties and cook extravagant meals and go for long drives and read books that aren’t about cancer and draw with crayons and colored pencils. I want to dream dreams again. I want to make plans that don’t involve fear and doctors.
I want to kick my way out of the cancer morass and become myself again. And when I do, I’ve no doubt I’ll be back here, better, clearer.
I want to go out and play. And I think that finally, at long last, I can. And that makes all the difference.