On September 17th, at 9:00 am, give or take a minute or two, it will be exactly one year ago that I heard the words from my GI’s mouth: “I found cancer”. I was in disbelief. Not exactly a novel reaction. Whether you have no signs of the disease and are blindsided, like me, or just have your suspicions confirmed due to symptoms you are experiencing, I reckon you’re still horrified with the diagnosis. You’d be a real unruffled cucumber, or Kristen Stewart, if you just sat there with no emotion ….
We all like to think we are unique and special snowflakes, amiright???? I’m certain, however, that I was the very opposite of unique when I was absorbing the information being given to me. I could tell by my GI’s face that I was responding in pretty much the same way her cancer positive patients had in the past. When she spoke to me, it was very matter of fact, detached, and rehearsed. She did not appear at all surprised with my reaction. Everyone falls to pieces. Some do it internally, others are more outwardly expressive. Regardless, your day will suddenly become pretty fucking shitty.
Luckily all my pieces were picked up and plastered back on me by my two sisters and husband. I’ll be honest. I don’t remember much about the day the GI confirmed it was cancer. I also can’t recall much about what happened on the day of my CT scan. Amnesia was pretty much the order of the day when I had my very first appointment with my surgeon, but I do know that once again my two sisters, Wendy and Sarah, as well as my husband Tim WERE there to listen to all the important information that I was incapable of processing at the time. More importantly, they were there to ensure I did not do or say anything too imbecilic. Apparently they fell short of this objective as Wendy informed me later that instead of giving a five word reply, I gave a five minute dramatic reading to my surgeon after he politely inquired about my family doctor, whom he happened to know personally. By all accounts, I need lessons in brevity, and a tutorial on how to make things sound less soap opera-ish.
This past year has been a bit of a blur. I’ve struggled mightily. Most people who know me and are reading this post might be surprised to read that. I’ve kept my complaining to a minimum (other than to my husband, and let’s face it, that’s in his job description) and kept my run and fitness bragging to a maximal level on multiple social media platforms. Instead of pouring out my heart and soul to friends and family, I’ve gone to see a psychiatrist regularly to scare her with my thoughts and to bore her with my anxieties. She hasn’t felt the need to write a paper on me, commit me to a psychiatric facility, nor has she fallen asleep at any of my sessions. She tells me that I take the VERY, VERY ordinary and normal fears that someone has after a cancer diagnosis and makes them entertaining for her. In other words, I make her laugh, which she has done on many occasions. She doesn’t charge extra for the guffaws.
Surprisingly, it’s not just cancer that we’ve talked about. Well, surprising to me. My sister Wendy told me the appointments would not be just limited to that topic, but I chose to think she was wrong. Turns out I was the one that was wrong, in addition to being smug and pompous. Fear of the unknown, and the desire to control the uncontrollable, has a root cause apparently, and we needed to dig deep for mine. Like, my basement has a basement, and that basement has all sorts of nasty things in it, deep. She tells me that I have insight, though, so I grab at that praise, hang on, and do the work. It’s ongoing. We also talk about my disappointments. Deep, heart wrenching, gutting, bitter pills of disappointments that I have had to choke down. Daaaaamn, there I go being all dramatic again.
As my first bastardly anniversary draws near I’ve come to realize that, for me, there is a certain part about cancer that I had romanticized. I had imagined that I would get a ton of support from people, and I certainly did. The list of people that were just there is almost endless. They know who they are, though, because I have taken the time to tell them what they mean to me. When you are completely alone late at night and barely hanging on emotionally in a stale smelling and confining hospital room, a text that comes out of nowhere from a friend literally saves your life. Trust me on that one.
There were some people who disappointed me though. Not a lot, but friends that I thought would talk to me about what I was going through, either by emailing or texting, did not. Even after I was out of hospital, I did not get even a “how are you doing” inquiry. The worst was when I finally saw these friends and there was still not one word said to me in acknowledgment of what I went through. Not. One. Word. I found it odd. I found it disturbing. I also found it enlightening. When someone shows you who they are, believe them. Honestly, I had friends (who barely knew me) of a really good friend show me more compassion than people I have known for decades. I try not to dwell on the disappointments though, and feel happy that I do have many, many people who did care and are super interesting to boot.
Perhaps I am to blame for the aloofness of those friends, though. I did find it very hard to TALK about my cancer. It’s why I started blogging about it. It’s why I preferred texts and emails rather than an actual phone call, or a face to face conversation in the very early days. I pride myself on keeping my shite together. There is nothing more mortifying to me than sobbing hysterically. I certainly don’t mind doing that in front of family. They know my frailties and many, many defects. To do it in front of friends feels humiliating to me. By texting or emailing I can be a big ball of mucus and still maintain a facade of strength. The only friend I completely lost it in person with, was Carol. It was two weeks after my diagnosis. It was a good experience, but then Carol is unlike anyone I have ever known, so there’s that. As I wrote earlier, my psychiatrist is working with me to help me stop this need for perfection and to appear in control at all times.
I will admit this: It is exhausting to be like that when a crisis plows into you. Much easier when things are going swimmingly. Another confession? Hugs are great. From anyone, but especially from people who know you really well. A proper and well timed hug can take the place of a twenty minute conversation.
I’ve had a brilliant outcome to my cancer so far. Between now and November I have a bunch of tests and procedures set up to ensure I am cancer free, including another full body CT scan to look for metastatic cancer. This lovely event will envelop my body in another three years worth of radiation, and will tax my already problematic kidneys with contrast dye. I have to do all these tests and procedures every year, until 2020. This annual event, which I have christened “Happy Anniversary, You Bastard”, makes me feel simultaneously safe and well looked after, as well as apprehensive and frightened of the unknown. Extremely mind numbing boringly normal emotions.
So what am I doing to celebrate my first anniversary? I am heading to my sisters place as my cancerversary falls on the same date as my nieces birthday. I will also drop in to visit my other sister, and her family, on the way back home. The following weekend I am running a race, which my sister Wendy has also decided to run in. While each year will require me to be poked, prodded and reminded that some small spec of a cancerous cell could be taking root somewhere in my body, I have also decided that each year I WILL require myself to do activities that remind me that I am alive and capable of doing whatever I set my mind to. Most importantly, I will surround myself with the people in my life that propped me up when I briefly lost my footing.
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