A native New Yorker, Shira Kallus Zwebner is a communications consultant and writer living with her husband and three children in Jerusalem, Israel. Diagnosed in 2017 with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, she's fighting her cancer battle and blogging about the journey at hipstermomblog.com
Support is essential for cancer survivors, especially as we struggle to reintegrate into our lives.
I almost didn't catch it, the slight eye roll, but it left an impression. Two months after I finished my last course of treatment for stage 4 non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and was declared in remission, I met my friend for a walk. We strolled around our neighborhood and then went to sit in the park to catch up. The conversation was fluid and fun, we talked about our children and spouses, about podcasts and the Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary.
Then she asked me how I was feeling and I started to tell her, to really tell her. I started to tell her about the sleepless nights and the fear of relapse that encapsulated me like a dark cloak. The mental toll the entire ordeal has taken on our family and how we were struggling to claw our way out of the depths, to establish a new normal that didn't include PICC lines and weekly hospital appointments, prednisone anger and Neupogen bone pain.
I was startled by the eye roll, by her dismissive behavior and tone, the way she seemed annoyed by my fears. I immediately stopped talking and turned the conversation back to something more banal, like recipes and Netflix, and made a mental note to never discuss my cancer with her again. When people ask me how I'm feeling, I say the same thing over and over again with a fake smile on my face.
"Fine, thank G-d," I reply. "Feeling stronger every day."
I cannonballed my way back into my life as soon as my PICC line was removed and my hospital appointments were scheduled 12 weeks a part. Deep down, I wish reintegration had been slower, dipped toe-by-toe and inch-by-inch until I was really ready to dunk my head under the waters of my life. I took on way too much at once, piling my plate high with Pilates and gardening, carpool and cooking, extended work hours and new puppy training.
While aspects of reintegration have been amazing, like being the one to pick up my son from school every afternoon and walking the dog for miles and miles unassisted, not having a support network has left a gaping hole in my life. I feel misunderstood and very alone, fragile and constantly afraid. The anger of it all seethes inside of me and I grow frustrated daily when my attempts at meditation does nothing to quiet the storm inside. I've isolated myself socially from our friends and most family, interacting with a very small group of people and almost always over the phone or via text.
But I hate feeling angry all the time, and I despise constantly feeling afraid. Hopelessness has never appealed to me; I'm solution and goal-oriented by nature. I prefer to be the heroine and not the victim, so I'm spending some time searching for a support network. Where I live in Israel, it hasn't been easy to find a group of English-speaking women in their 40s and 50s who have survived their battle with lymphoma, but I keep looking. Perhaps once I find people I can relate to, who can understand what I've been through and where I'm going, I'll finally be able to let go of some of the anger and sadness that holds me back from enjoying my life.