Cancer as Rebirth


This month marks my second anniversary of being diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, an event that profoundly changed my view of life and death.

Two. This month marks my second anniversary of living with stage 4 lung cancer. Two years ago at this time, lung cancer burst into my life, kicking and screaming, demanding all of our attention and making our family completely alter our lives to accommodate it.

Those first few weeks were a fog. Just make it through this day, this hour, this minute. As the months went on, we gradually grew accustomed to its presence and learned how to live with this new creature in our midst. I learned to take those tentative first steps — to get my legs under me again. A stumble, a trip, then finding the courage to pull myself back up and try again. Trying to find a voice, to speak this new reality. Find words to communicate and describe this new landscape. I learned to grow into this new identity, to develop my new sense of self.

Two years ago today I got that devastating phone call that confirmed it. No more hoping that my severely impaired breathing was due to an unusual strain of pneumonia or some bizarre infection. The biopsy confirmed it: lung cancer.

Two years ago today all I could focus on was getting oxygen into my body.

Today, I spent the day at the building we are transforming into our dream business, where I prepped the rewards packages for the people who donated to our fundraiser. Tonight I spent the evening at my son's school ice cream social, watching the kids run around the playground with their friends, negotiating with them how many ice creams they could get and enjoying the sun and breeze.

Two years ago I ate dinner lying on the couch, too weak to sit at the table with the family.

I guess you could say that the old me died on that fateful spring day in 2013 when I got the devastating news. The person who I was prior to that point is gone now. The person who could talk casually about growing to old age. The person who could commit to future events without a voice in the back of her head whispering, "if I'm still here then."

But it is not all bad. A new person has arisen from the ashes. A person who is not afraid to take chances, be bold or speak up. Over the past two years I have found a new voice. I have found my footing, taken my first steps and learned to walk again. Among other things, I have become a person who can rattle off the names of half a dozen tyrosine kinase inhibitors currently in clinical trials and a person who drools over news from ASCO. I'm someone who thinks frequently about end of life, who walks alongside sickness and who knows a shocking number of people in various stages of dying. I'm someone who no longer feels afraid of talking about these taboo subjects. And someone who understands the painful, beautiful brevity of our time here on Earth.

Two years living with metastatic lung cancer, and today I am a billion times healthier than I was when they (finally) figured out what was wrong. Two years and still kickin'. Who woulda thunk it?

Tori Tomalia is many things: a mom, a wife, a theatre artist, a mediocre cook, a Buffy fan, a stinky cheese aficionado. She is also, unfortunately, a repeat visitor to Cancerland. Stay tuned for her continued adventures.



Blog: "A Lil Lytnin' Strikes Lung Cancer"

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