My osteosarcoma has been under control for a few years now, and in my moments of free time, I start to feel guilty for lacking the drive to take on more.
Growing up, I always had a type A personality with a clear plan and vision on how to spend my time chasing life goals.
Then, at 30 years old, just as I was hitting my prime (engaged to the woman I love with our pet dog and building a successful executive search career in New York City), I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare and aggressive bone cancer. Next came treatment, surgeries and multiple recurrences after a few attempted returns to work (the tumor started in my right femur and spread to both lungs multiple times as well as my left hip), ultimately leading to a conversation where my oncologist informed me that I had a less than 10% survival rate.
I spent the next couple of years frantically researching out-of-the-box healing methods and educating myself on holistic health. Thanks to luck and fierce discipline and commitment, I was able to turn my situation around and defy the odds.
It’s now been almost three years of clear scans as I continue to prioritize my health at home while coping with arthritis and all the trauma you might imagine after five-plus years of living in constant survival mode. While I try to never take my incredible fortune to still be alive for granted, being isolated on medical leave has been difficult. In my mid-thirties and no longer working on a day-to-day basis, I feel ungrounded at times, especially compared to my peers.
When catching up with old friends and family, I sometimes find myself feeling defensive while sharing about the latest on my end, mainly because there’s not that much else than the usual: I keep up with my regimens and routines and do everything I can to give myself the best chance of continued clear scans. Back while I was bald from chemo and physically receiving treatment at the hospital, it just had a different vibe; it was more understood, unquestioned. Now at times, during the occasional pocket of free time, I find myself plagued with guilt for not having the courage or drive to take on more in life.
I was sharing these feelings with a therapist, checking in to see if maybe I was holding myself back? Was I just being cowardly?
She calmed me down when she compared my circumstances to someone rehabilitating on crutches after an accident. You wouldn’t ask them to run a marathon right away; it takes time to build back up, and she reminded me how much I’ve been through.
It felt nice to be validated. Being alone at home for years, I’ve lost that sense of objectivity. I really have been working through my issues, trying to reach a place where I feel comfortable taking on more, but at my own pace. After multiple recurrences, I’m extremely cautious about pushing my nervous system too hard. If fighting cancer teaches you nothing else, you learn that you’re the one who deals with the consequences— not the well-minded doctor, colleague or friend.
There may be pressure from society to stay productive, with goals and achievements readily available to share, but at least for now, I feel comforted by the reminder that everything I’m doing is not only acceptable, it’s actually really important for my body, mind and spirit to recover and rebuild.
When the moment feels right, I’ll make the proper adjustments just like I have every step of the way so far — taking it one day at a time.
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