I feel this unintentional pressure from everyone that my cancer is over, that it’s forever gone. It is the collective hope of so much love from friends and family, to wish a disease gone by positive thinking. I want so much to be on board with you.
But the truth is…
I never stop thinking about it. I cannot escape it. Always, at the back of my mind, every day is the idea that my cancer is going to come back. There is no “normal” in my life. I am haunted by the words of my doctors… “your cancer is aggressive,” “we’re surprised that you have cancer because you have no warning signs, no history.” Oh, it goes on and on. The lucky ones are the predictable ones (and how f*ed up is it for me to say that?).
I am fearful of the foods I eat, too much sun, too much stress, missing my medicine, wondering if there was some treatment I missed out on, wondering if the treatments I did will end up being a waste of time. Wondering if I will wait four years to have kids, be just about done with “treatment,” just about ready to start planning a family and find out WHAM it’s back. How am I supposed to live my life? Do I live it like every day could be my last or with the hope that I will have a future?
I work hard to plan for a future but should I chuck it all to the wind and go out there and see the world? Am I wasting my time planning for a future that I may never see? The tiny silver lining is that some people die so unexpectedly that they never have the jolt of life grabbing them by the lapels and screaming “NOW OR NEVER,” but my problem is recognizing that… is THIS my now or never? Is this my now? Will it suddenly be my never?
How do I take the ideals I was raised on–hard work, commitment, adaptability, patience–and apply it to the life I lead now, a life that odds are will be limited on time? The recurrence rate of cancer for me is high. The numbers suck. The odds are NOT in my favor. Even if they were, they’re just numbers and when it’s odds and numbers, if there’s ANY chance of recurrence it’s scary shit. I’m 30 years old and I’m facing life decisions that my parent’s generation is just beginning to face. I’m sorry, people, but what the fuck? Should I be considering a Will at 30?
Then there’s the attempt at living a normal life. Yes, I would like to be 30 years old and really enjoy it. I want to drink a few beers and not think at the back of my mind that 1) what will the alcohol do to and remaining cancer cells, feed it? 2) will a run down immune system help remnant cancer recuperate? 3) lack of sleep, cancer; 4) dehydration, cancer; 5) life, cancer… At what point can I stop worrying and go back to a carefree existence?
And there’s always the one thing that is so hard to explain… my body is 30 but has been through so much in the last two years that it behaves as if it is much older. I cannot recover quickly. One day on the boats–actually, four hours–and my back is so sore. I get out of breath easily, talking too much or too fast, tying lines, walking up a hill with a lot of gear… why am I out of breath? It’s embarrassing and it’s sad and it’s frustrating. I cannot do the job I have for much longer; it’s too physically demanding. So there goes my spirit, my passion; crushed into a pile with my strength. It’s demoralizing.
It does make me get creative on figuring out what I can do and what I should do; how do I find a job that keeps my mind occupied but is somewhat less physical? Maybe something that allows me to balance what’s important in life.
So here we find ourselves in the middle of December during my all-time favorite season: the holidays. And I don’t want you to walk away from this read frustrated and exasperated. I want you to take a page from my book: here’s what pisses me off that you can fix… if there’s something in your life that you can change for the better, do it. Don’t wait for some big life event to come along and totally fuck it up for you and force you to change. Change it on your own time. Because if a big life event is forcing you to change, then it may be too late. It usually is. Let me be your life event…
And get your shit together for god’s sake!
I don’t care if it’s committing to eating healthy, having a baby, quitting smoking, quitting drinking (or just drinking five beers instead of six each night), just fucking do it. Don’t act like no one is watching and try to get away with that extra beer. Really, you’re letting yourself down. And me. And really, I’m almost always on my death bed (when I feel extra dramatic) so if you let me down, I will kick your ass.
Truthfully, my sense of family has always been strong but since I’ve been sick it has gotten stronger and deeper. Basically, anyone in my life is my family. So that means anyone of Facebook is mi familia. And I’m watching you.
In review: make your new year’s resolution and make it good. Make it to your benefit. Make yourself happy. Whether it’s emotional, physical, spiritual, health, job, family, relationship… whatever, just fucking do it already. Put yourself out there. Try it. Because one day you could find a lump, and it could be cancer, and it could just change your whole life perspective…