I’ve been thinking a lot lately about forgiveness. It’s definitely something I’ve struggled with in the past and something I continue to grapple with today. I’ve had my fair share of being wronged in my life but if a person legitimately apologizes or reaches out to make amends, I’m generally amenable to a fault. I find the person I have the most trouble truly forgiving is myself…and that’s the person you really need to forgive at the end of the day. As much as you may hate yourself sometimes, you’re all you’ve got. We come into this world alone and we leave it alone. If you can’t even forgive yourself then how can you ever expect to forgive someone else? Sometimes you love the wrong people. Sometimes you make the wrong decision. Sometimes you trust someone you shouldn’t. Sometimes the people you think will be in your life forever disappear without a trace. Sometimes we fall and we stay down longer than we intend to. Sometimes you mistake evil for good. Sometimes you wish you’d done something differently. Sometimes we just plain fuck up. But we have to just keep on truckin’. I know that I am always striving for perfection and that I often hold myself up to impossibly high standards. I also know that these are both recipes for disappointment. No one is harder on me than I am on myself. I have compassion and love for all of the people in my life, even strangers garner more empathy from me than I can muster for myself. It can be really hard to start the process of true forgiveness, but it’s ultimately a road worth taking. If we can treat ourselves the way we would treat a beloved relative or a treasured friend we would all be much better off in our own minds and spirits. We tend to forget that we are fallible, erroneous and fragile. We don’t know everything and we don’t always make the best choices. We can let it weigh heavy on our hearts and minds or we can simply forgive ourselves, learn from our mistakes and try again. Bad things happen in life, it’s just inevitable. Be it because we are being punished by some higher power or because life is just a random series of occurrences and some of them are bound to be shitty. I honestly don’t know where I stand as far as the why, but I trust that forgiveness is a factor in the healing of our self-inflicted wounds.
So here we are, nearly 13 weeks after the surgery. It’s crazy how fast time has been flying on the one hand, but on the other, things seem to be moving at a crawl. I’ve been on what I’ve aptly dubbed as “house arrest” for what is beginning to feel like a small eternity. It’s just me, my cats, my unyielding thoughts and my crutches day after day in a sea of books, television, my loyal peeps/family and the occasional jaunt to a medical facility. Sometimes I feel like I’m looking at life through a pinhole, craving the freedom and independence of escape but also feeling the fear of what lies in wait. I’ve been cooped up for so long I’ve become like a caged animal, afraid to leave captivity but feeling my base instinct telling me I am meant to roam free. There are days like today where I just feel full on anxiety wrapping it’s evil clutches around my guts, unsure of how I can truly relax. I have to remind myself that while this feels somewhat like purgatory, hell is miles behind me. That there has been a marked progression in my circumstance from where I was all those weeks ago. I can now crutch short distances without a wheelchair. I can cook myself meals, albeit with an annoying level of difficulty. I no longer need help bathing. I don’t need the support bars over my toilet to use the bathroom. I can sleep in my bed alone without being deathly afraid. I can sit here and type this post without crying out in agony from sitting. They are small victories but they are victories none the less.
People are always talking about taking things one day at a time and saying that one should always live their life in the present moment. I’ve always had extreme difficulty doing this and have definitely struggled with the concept of both throughout my tumultuous journey. The only thing I know is that the past is too painful and the future is too frighteningly uncertain. So I will do my best to just rest here in the present. As Emily Dickinson so poignantly wrote over 60 years ago; Forever is composed of nows.
It’s occurred to me that I haven’t mentioned a very important detail that was made known to me over a month ago. At my first post-surgical appointment, my surgeon and my oncologist informed me that I am now officially cancer-free. I was handed a 4-page pathology report that was made after analyzing the tumor, bone, muscle and other bits that were removed from me during the operation. It was mostly scientific mumbo-jumbo that a non-medical professional such as myself could not decipher, but the third paragraph told me everything I have been wanting desperately to hear; No tumor seen.
Everyone was very excited by this news; my family, my friends, my doctors, they all had one thing in common in their reaction to the diagnosis; They seemed to feel a genuine sense of relief. I was definitely pleased to hear that the cancer was gone but it wasn’t like when I found out the first time around. There were no tears of joy, no feelings of accomplishment nor the satisfaction of completion. Deep down I know it’s because I’m absolutely terrified that it could happen again. I remember the doctors being so sure that I would never have a recurrence after the initial sarcoma because I had reacted so well to the chemotherapy and they got good margins during the surgery and they managed to get the entire tumor, etc. I had clear PET scans for months after my celebratory party at the hospital and I thought that I was truly in the clear. It was all over…until it wasn’t. I didn’t even get to a year of being cancer-free, just 8 months. Ironically, I had a clear PET 4 weeks before I started to feel pain in my hip, pain that I was sure was due to the rigorous physical therapy I was doing at that time after my third surgery. But as it turns out, it wasn’t the PT and a tumor had managed to grow inside my pelvis in a matter of a month.
I know I’m lucky. I know it’s a miracle I have been able to live through any of this at all, but there’s a part of me that feels like it’s not over and a fear that it will never be over. I don’t feel safe. I don’t feel like it’s time to celebrate and tempt fate. The fact is no one knows if this is really the end of cancer for me. I’m sure this is a common feeling among survivors who have had a recurrence. The fear of the unknown is almost suffocating sometimes. At this point in time, I have another 5 weeks of being homebound and non-weight bearing. After that I have to begin PT so I can learn how to walk again for the fourth time in my life. Maybe when I get through all of that and start to feel like a person again I’ll start to feel more of a sense of relief. I’m sure I will, but for now I just need to keep that little voice in the back of my mind quiet so I can move forward and live my life.
It’s been a long time since I’ve posted. For whatever reason I haven’t been able to just sit and let the contents of my mind flow outward. I’ve been trying to keep it all in. Sometimes I’m afraid that if I really get in touch with what it is I’m feeling/thinking, I will completely lose it. Like I will start crying and just never stop. I have to say, holding things in hasn’t helped me any. It’s only wound me up that much tighter.
I’m utterly exhausted. I am now an insomniac. I can’t think of the last time I really slept soundly. My personal best is 4 hours straight without waking up, but most nights I awaken every 2 hours. On particularly troublesome nights, I am up every 45 minutes to an hour. There’s always a time before dawn where I am just wide awake, changing positions restlessly for at least an hour, sometimes 3, trying desperately to fall back asleep. I do somehow manage to have dreams while I’m in these brief slumbers and they run the gamut from fairly happy to dark and disturbing. I don’t think I’ve had a full, undisturbed 8 hours of rest since 2012. Although when I was on Gemzar, I was so tired I felt like I couldn’t keep my eyes open for more than ten minutes. I felt complete exhaustion from the moment I woke up in the morning, like I hadn’t slept for days.
What I wouldn’t give to sleep through the night. At this point, I’m used to looking in the mirror and seeing dark half-moon circles under my eyes and fine lines that never used to be there before. Even when I take an Ativan, I still awaken 2 hours after I close my eyes. I used to be a champion sleeper. I could go 12 hours straight if I wanted to. Sleep has always been an escape for me. When I didn’t feel like facing the world, I could just lay down and be someplace else in my mind. A couple of weeks back, I had a dream that my friend and I were walking in the woods up a very steep grassy hill. We were going towards a light, a sunset so bright and colorful, it could take your breath away. Pinks, oranges, purples and golds all swirled together into this almost blinding light. When we finally reached the top of the hill, we discovered that it was a cliff. At the bottom of this cliff about a mile down, there was an ocean and a road. I tested the ground before us with a stick and it went straight through the earth. She told me she was scared and we held hands. I said to her that I wasn’t ready yet and we slowly walked backwards away from the edge. Then I woke up.
I’m not ready yet…
Cancer can make you do some stupid things. It can completely cloud your judgement. It can lead you back to people and situations that are just as toxic now as they were once upon a time. But you think, “Fuck it, I have cancer. What do I have to lose?” While that initial bout of fearlessness is quite liberating, in the end it will only break your heart. Some things never change, even though you have. You think things will be different now, but they won’t. Everything seems to be just as you left it. Why do we suddenly cling to things we know aren’t good for us when shit hits the fan? Why in moments of intense vulnerability and weakness do we find ourselves complacent to grasp at straws and consume the paltry crumbs carelessly left behind with such fervor? They will never truly satiate us or satisfy even our most basic desires. Why when faced with the prospect of our own mortality are we willing to settle?
This post is for everyone else out there who is currently suffering and staring down the barrel of a gun. Don’t you dare for one minute settle for less than you deserve. Not for anything or anyone. If this is indeed our last hurrah, do we want to go down knowing that we compromised ourselves? That we let our pride and dignity fall by the wayside for a moments pleasure? Or some pathetic attempt at seeking comfort?
My grandmother always used to say it’s better to be alone than in bad company. Remember that there were valid reasons why these people and places disappeared from your lives and being sick doesn’t change any of that, much as we wish it would. Now is not the time to settle, now is the time to revel in the pure and genuine aspects of life. To lean that much harder on those things you know to be true. The things that don’t bend in the breeze. The people who deserve to be in your heart because they’ve earned it. Those who know your worth and never let you forget it for a second. Don’t waste another minute of your time dwelling on things that ultimately aren’t worth a damn. Don’t lose anymore sleep over people who rest comfortably in their beds at night without a thought of you. Trust that there is better, trust that there will be more days in the sun.
If cancer was a job, I would have given my two weeks notice after my first day. Not that it’s a position anyone in their right mind is vying for, but I am just not cut out for cancer.
I am somehow allergic to every single anti-nausea drug on the market. I am allergic to just about every medication you can think of, (including fucking Benadryl!!), thus landing myself in the E.R. more times than I’d care to remember. It’s like anything that can possibly make chemotherapy the slightest bit easier does not sit well with me. And then there’s the damn chemo itself, which seems to affect me 10 times harder than it would an average person. We’re at the point where it’s unclear what is the best course of treatment for me because I’m “so sensitive.” Jesus.
I’ve been told that I’m “sensitive” my whole life, but usually it’s referring to my personality. Maybe it’s because I become emotionally invested or that I care very deeply about things. Maybe it’s because I’m a worrier and I over analyze everything. Maybe it’s because I cry easily and fall in love hard. Maybe it’s because I’m too nice and trusting. Whatever. I never saw being sensitive as a bad thing, but in this case…being sensitive sincerely sucks!
It’d be nice for once not to have a fucking complication or an unexpected side effect while I’m trying to get through this. It’s bad enough I have to suffer through all of this shit again for a second time for whatever reason, but can’t it be somewhat bearable?! It’s times like this I wish I was anything but sensitive. That I could be a stone cold bitch who feels nothing. But alas, I’m just the same old “sensitive” gal I’ve always been and it ain’t doing me any favors right now.
Some people say blood is thicker than water, others will tout that family is not about blood but those who are willing to hold your hand when you need it the most. I’m finding that I’m blessed to have both an amazing family who will always be there for me and a small group of people who are willing to stand by me no matter what. Unwavering support is a beautiful thing. Sometimes people really surprise you. Sometimes people you thought would always be there for you aren’t and people you never thought in a million years would be by your side step up. The outpouring of support I have received after my diagnosis has been truly staggering. It’s nice to feel so much positivity and prayers floating your way, particularly on those days when you can muster neither. People say that there is power in prayer. Perhaps. Though I have to say it feels pretty good to know that family, friends and complete strangers are thinking of you when they are communicating with their respective G-ds all around the country and the world. I don’t know if it’s helping, but it certainly can’t hurt.