Treatment is over – no longer are days filled with doctors’ appointments, choices, planning and cancer. Now What?
I remember being dimly aware that things were different. I was still me, somewhat altered. But mostly I was the same person – or was I? Getting back to life as it was seemed strange – new colors, new emotions about old issues and places and people. Mostly that, unless people added to my life, they did not deserve my attention.
Talk about a paradigm shift. Someone picked up my paradigm and threw it across the room. It didn’t shift, it ran and jumped.
No one else was talking about it – no one mentioned it. They all seemed to be getting along, going on about their business – getting back to “normal.”
Ah, normal. What is that anyway? Is it knowing that something is eating away at your healthy tissue – an uninvited parasite that would consume you if not for the drugs that blasted your system? Drugs that leave you with an out-of-body experience.
One of my favorite books after cancer was A Whole New Life by Reynolds Price, an English professor who had a tumor on his spinal column. Surgery and radiation saved his life, but left him in pain in a wheelchair.
In his book, he tells of his journey into pain and out again. Drugs made him foggy and he didn’t like it. He learned to hypnotize himself out of his pain. It was a painful journey to finally realize that everything was different. He said at one point that the nicest thing the radiation therapist could have said to him was, “You know the old Reynolds Price is dead. Who do you want to be now?”
I cried when I read these words almost eight years after my diagnosis. I was sitting beside a lake in Minnesota, and the cool breeze off the lake mingled with the sounds of the children playing in the water. I was doing the work Price had done to understand that I was a different person. I thought about answering the question about who I wanted to be now.
I had answered the question by embracing cancer and understanding that:
1. The old normal would never be again. Say goodbye.
2. Reinvent yourself with the cancer experience and all you have learned from it.
3. This new person is a better person – more in the moment.
Who am I now?
I am someone who has had cancer and learned from that experience the joy of living, and that it was OK when Kirtley and her friends got the giggles in the car. That was life. Why did they need shushing?
It was OK if there were dog hair bundles blowing across the kitchen floor, and it was more important to go outside and listen to the birds than to clean them up.
It was OK to get the giggles myself, and then be unable to stop. I used to squelch the laughter to what I thought set a good example.
It was OK to sing out loud in the house, despite the looks I got from my teenagers.