Finding normalcy after cancer.
In 1998, I had my last bout with Hodgkin lymphoma. It had been 10 years since my last occurrence. I was of course disappointed that I had to go through it all for the fourth time, but I did the treatments and had my bone marrow transplant. Now that's a very condensed, nutshell-version of how it all took place. Throughout the treatments, hospital stays and all the surprises that come with going through cancer treatment, I remember looking forward to the end and to getting back to my life. I kept thinking of the things I was going to do and how happy I was going to be after this last round. Heck, it only made sense that I’d be ecstatic after finishing my treatment.
I remember on my birthday, coming home from Atlanta after my bone marrow transplant. I was finally finished with chemotherapy and cancer, again. (Seriously, this time I was done. No, really.) My neighbors had hung a huge, “Welcome Back Ryan!” sign on our garage door. It reminded me of pulling up to one of my birthday parties as a kid, only there were no cupcakes. When I saw this sign, I remember feeling a confirmation that I had made it. Yep, I was "back."
Within just a few months, I finished college after having to temporarily drop out for treatment and then started my first real job. Hello, corporate America! But as the days went by, things weren’t as I expected them to be. I had a job, friends and a social life, but what was wrong? Was I happy that I had throat-punched cancer for a fourth time? Oh yes, absolutely, but I still didn’t feel settled. Something was missing. I was back, but not really.
During those times, I always felt like I was forgetting something, which I probably was thanks to chemo. I felt like I was late for something — I constantly felt a sense of urgency and like I needed to be on the lookout for the big event. I wasn’t even consciously thinking about cancer exactly. I just couldn’t let go of the feeling that I needed to stay prepared and not get too comfortable. This all intensified as time went by and I eventually found myself fixated on my health, often for good reason. Along with miscellaneous infections, side effects resulting from treatment, memory issues, and the loss of other patients that I had met while living in Atlanta, I had become extremely anxious, numb and unhappy. Things just weren’t as exciting or as fun as they had once been. I wasn't "back" and it wasn't "done.”
The truth is you don’t just bounce right back after cancer. It’s taken me some time, but over the years I’ve learned to accept the past and possibilities of the future as a result of cancer. I’m not exactly “back,” but I’ll always be headed in that direction.