"At least you had the 'good' cancer." The words are etched on the back of my newly released book, Battle Courage: Channeling My Inner Warrior Princess to Kick Cancer's Ass. It's been a little over a year since my last radiation treatment. It's been almost 16 months since my last chemo. My hair's all back (albeit a whole lot thinner). You would think everything would be okay. You'd think.
For the most part, life has bounced back in full steam ahead again from having the "good" cancer. I refuse to say "normal" because nothing's normal anymore. Much like PTSD, cancer has a way of destroying everything you once knew as normal. My appetite has returned to some extent, yet I gain ridiculous amounts of weight. There are still foods I don't tolerate, or enjoy, very much anymore, yet the weight finds me. I've learned it's definitely part of what I can expect as side effects from my medication. I can make it through a whole day of work and even some evening tasks, but no more night owl sessions with the vacuum or answering email. Energy evades me. I'm back to being more social than last year, but home is really the only place I feel like myself. And, I'm perfectly okay with my newly minted hermit status.
Who am I kidding? I don't know what feeling like myself even means anymore. The depression has subsided, yet little things, wonky things, things that really don't link rationally send me into a tailspin of despair pretty easily. I celebrate life every opportunity that arises but not nearly with as much vim and vigor. Now, I'm uber cautious about bedtimes, medication regimens, overtaxing my "maimed" arm, and catching anything infectious. I'm not nearly as panicky and paranoid as I was a year ago; I guess through meditative practices, I've become more reflective and more grateful for feeling like mediocre crap each morning. At least I am alive. The seriousness that I once was able to shrug off is now part of my DNA. Every day. Serious. Intentional.
Snark aside, we learn. Hopefully, adversity like cancer can teach us something about functioning on as high of cylinders as we possibly can when some cylinders are rusty, crickety, and downright busted. It isn't just a "blessing of aging" thing. This whole aftermath of cancer is the part no one tells you about. The part no one offers supports through. The part you just navigate on your own because your situation is entirely unlike anyone else's.
So, we learn. We learn that drinking water, and I mean gallons of it, is a good thing. We learn that sleep is our BFF. We learn that movement is critical. We learn that green is good. We learn that love comes in many forms. We learn to laugh at everything, even the inappropriate stuff. We learn to shrug off all the vitriol and consternation bombarding us in today's media platforms. We learn to cry and be mad and accept the fact that yes, there are things over which we have zero control. And, we learn to love what we can do, where we're at, with what we have...in that moment. And celebrate it! We learn that where there's hope, there's light, and that light can take away much of the pain and confusion...and yes, fear we might have.
Like any life challenge, cancer makes us learn. If we can learn and turn all our life changes into positive ones, others can learn from us. The ripple affect can be a beautiful mirror on a glassy lake rather than hurricane gale-force winds, throwing us overboard in nothingness and turmoil. My bout with cancer leaves me with more hope than fear. I know, without a doubt, there will be a cure one day. I know, without a doubt, I will speak with survivors 10, 20, 30 years from now and the radical, harsh, godawful life-saving treatments will be replaced by research-driven improvements. I know this.
So, we learn.