I Must Trust the Process in Life After Cancer

Seeing a friend meet up for a business meeting made me miss my fast-paced life before cancer, but reminded me to trust the process of where I am now.

Earlier this week, I met a good friend/former client for coffee. He’s been a stand up, loyal friend every step of the way since my diagnosis in 2016.

Back then, I worked as an executive recruiter in Manhattan. It was a fast-paced job: lots of action with good money to be made, but unfortunately, my former life also came with high stress levels. It wasn’t great for my health, and after multiple attempts to return to work after treatment, I ended up with recurrences. I can’t say for sure what contributed to the cancer coming back, but I’m sure the intensity of each day didn’t help my condition.

Anyway, these days I’m on disability and medical leave of absence. Fortunately, my health has shown improvement — I treat taking care of myself like a full-time job — but the days can get lonely. And so it was nice to get out on a bright sunny morning, feel the buzz of New York City and meet up with a familiar face. As always, I enjoyed the conversation; it’s nice when a friend can just listen about the current struggles, obstacles of life after cancer without throwing positive spins or aggressive conversation changes in your face. I felt validated and enjoyed hearing about his life: work, kids, vacation plans, all that good stuff.

My friend had carved out an hour and was meeting a colleague at the same cafe afterwards; in fact, I actually got to meet her when she showed up early. After a quick hello, I excused myself and let them get to business

And that’s around when it hit me. I had heavy emotions swelling in my gut, heart and throat; I missed my old life.

Working with cool people in a stimulating environment while providing for my family, contributing value and having clear, defined structure. (Of course, that conveniently leaves out the underbelly of frantic emails, fire drills and deadlines, sleep-deprived mornings, all the old triggers that skyrocketed my heart rate on a constant basis… but I was emotional in the moment, not rational.)

They say comparison is the thief of joy and the meeting definitely left me feeling a bit stagnant and empty inside. I’ve been chipping away at my own life for some time now, trying to decide what I want for a future and working on remembering how to dream again. It hasn’t been easy, but ultimately, I’m trying to look at this post-coffee reaction as a positive sign. Because yes, it sucks feeling unfulfilled, envious and borderline depressed, but I think that’s a signal indicating progress I’ve made this past year.

Going back not too long ago, I don’t think I would’ve been capable of having these feelings as I was in pure survival mode, living with paralyzing fear and anxiety. The shift from being afraid to trust the universe and venturing out to now, wanting and desiring is important. I couldn’t even tap into what I wanted a few months ago and it’s something I’ve been working on actively in therapy, figuring out how to navigate through the confusion, stress and uncertainty that is life after cancer.

The road to recovery hasn’t been linear, but I’ve been committed and have a strong support system. Now it’s about consistency, patience and trusting the process. It’s about compassion. And it’s about reminding myself that I’m doing OK, even when I’m not always so sure.

A few years ago, doctors ran out of answers and gave me a less than 10% survival rate, as I had a rare bone cancer. I had to keep moving forward, experimenting with new ideas and techniques and constantly adapting as new information came along. But I stayed diligent in the face of the unknown, and miraculously managed to find the light at the end of the tunnel.

So I’m just trying to remind myself that I didn’t have the roadmap back when I started then either, but I got where I needed to go. And I'm hoping that the same applies with finding some form of happiness, comfort and the right fit for Steve 2.0 in a life after cancer.


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