When you're busy fighting a disease there isn't time to really stop and process everything. You're at war. You have your full battle armor on and you are charging the enemy at top speed.
Then someone tells you that the battle is over and that you have won. You have survived lab tests, PET scans, biopsies, lymph node dissections, surgery and 24 staples being jabbed into your head and ripped out of your head and you are covered with new battle scars, both visible and invisible.
But I don't have cancer anymore. They got it all out. That should make me really happy, right? And it does. But even that doesn't change the fact that having just survived another major ordeal on the battlefield that is my health has left me flooded with all those feelings I did not have time or energy to deal with during the fight. And they are overwhelming, making me question everything, making me wonder if there will ever really be a time in my life when my body is not fighting a serious, major battle.
The past 3 years have been a nonstop fight against the MonSter. Sometimes he wins, sometimes I do. Every time he rises up to challenge me, I put on my battle armor and I fight as hard as I can. Then just when I think I may have won, he's back again. War has become my new life. Hitting the MonSter with steroids, trying this injection and that infusion and those pills, seeing this doctor and that doctor. Seeing doctors has been my full-time job for over 3 years now. If only I got paid for it. I literally schedule my entire life around my doctor visits, infusions and therapies.
As Tysabri started finally working, I began improving and went through my final semester of college without a single relapse, the longest I have ever gone without one. I finally started breathing again. I remembered what it was like to feel sort of normal. I was hopeful about my future and the possibility of doing things and not having diseases rule my life and my calendar.
Then this new opponent – Cancer - showed up and I went through the old familiar motions of pulling my armor, not yet even dusty, out of the closet and putting it on. I am now beginning to understand that it is not during a battle, but after that we finally allow ourselves to mentally process what just happened and sift through the many emotions that a crisis brings with it. And when you factor in how many life-changing diseases I have been diagnosed with in such a short amount of time, the treatments I have endured, the symptoms I have learned to cope with...well, it all has a cumulative effect on one's ability to stay constantly positive and hopeful. And I find myself wondering if the past 3 years are now indicative of what my life will be like for the next 30 years and that chases my hope even further away.
In the past 2 months I have earned the titles of College Graduate and Cancer Survivor. I am proud of both, but it all has left me feeling that melanoma has forever stained what should have been at least a brief period of satisfaction and pride. Instead I find myself feeling scared, insecure and extremely frustrated. A friend recently said to me, “Recovery is not a straight path.” I guess I am learning to walk the winding road of feeling better and then worse, of moving forwards only to move backwards and not knowing how long it will actually take to be “healed”…if that word is really even attainable.
Honestly, I’m sick of healing, of constantly finding myself in a state of recovery, if not from one disease than from another. I’m sick to death of being “sick.” I’m sick of being back here, left in the wake of some disease and seeing the damage it has done to me, my body, my loved ones and my life. I’m sick of coming out of the mud only to realize that it does not wash off as easily as I was promised and in some places it doesn’t wash off at all.
I am emotionally exhausted and not looking forward to the soul searching that will follow as I decide what comes next…of course, factoring in the limitations of my health and the fears that these many diseases have now ingrained in me. I am trying as hard as I can to embrace the meltdown, so to speak…to let go, and find whatever lessons there may be hidden within it.
I am dealing with the aftermath.
But as one of my favorite quotes says:
The distance between who you were to who you are becoming is where the dance of life really takes place. – Barbara DeAngelis
So I guess I’m dancing.