A Peaceful Coexistence –
Three months ago, I launched patient and empowered. Although it took almost two years for the blog to manifest, to say that I had a completely clear vision for how it would play out on a weekly basis would be untrue.
I knew I had experiences I wanted to share and stories to tell, especially when they involved my family and friends. But rather than following my typical behavioral pattern, where I make a plan then obsess over its details, I decided to let the process unfold more organically.
I am telling my cancer story in a mostly chronological manner while still trying to keep things fluid. I find that writing unearths memories I want to spend some time exploring. And without question, the incredibly supportive and insightful feedback I am receiving from those reading the blog has an enormous impact on how I approach each week’s essay.
So, while I have a general idea of where I want to focus the story each week, I am leaving room for the possibility that sometimes, as the narrator, I may want to take liberties and stray a bit off the path. Today is such an example.
This Sunday is National Cancer Survivors Day, an annual event that takes place the first Sunday in June. Three years ago, I had no awareness that such a day existed. I came upon it through a Google search on resources for cancer support.
One of the true bummers that comes with being diagnosed with a rare cancer is that you don’t get a ribbon. There is no special month designated for awareness, fundraising or professional sports teams to wear the color associated with your cancer in recognition of your battle. Try as I might, I found no walk, run or race to support a cure for Sertoli-Leydig.
But I did find National Cancer Survivors Day, whose website defines a survivor as follows:
“…. anyone living with a history of cancer – from the moment of diagnosis through the remainder of life.”
What I identify with most about this description is the belief that “surviving” is a lifelong endeavor.
As I continue to tell the story of my cancer journey, it will include not just one, but <spoiler alert> two battles with cancer. During my first go-round, I equated being a survivor with being in remission – a “get out of jail free” card that facilitated putting the whole experience behind me as if it never happened.
Nope. No such luck.
A recurrence, more surgery, more chemotherapy and another Groundhog Day designation of remission has made me wiser to the fact that being in remission and being a survivor are in no way connected.
The time I spent having cancer represents a very small portion of my life, yet it has drastically altered its direction. I think that having one of the worst things I could imagine happen to me, then survive it – twice – unlocked a type of magical thinking reminiscent of what Joan Didion described in her memoir on loss and grief.
I don’t view cancer as a daily threat. Like hurricanes that are named, the time the storm holds a city hostage is minuscule in comparison to the time needed to rebuild and heal itself from the destruction. This is how I view cancer.
When I am asked to plan or attend something several months in the future, my first thought is whether it may conflict with my quarterly check-in with my oncologist.
When I exit an airplane after a long trip from Seattle to the East Coast, I feel my joints ache, not just from sitting through a six-hour flight, but from the lingering damage that I still feel in my body from surgery and 11 rounds of chemotherapy.
When I am offered a new job opportunity that requires relocation, I think about the logistics of changing doctors and my health insurance.
And when I hear of someone who has received a cancer diagnosis, regardless of whether I know them personally or through a mutual acquaintance – I think of how grateful I am for all the aches, pains and logistical challenges.
Because I am surviving.
When I was a kid during the 1980s, long before the omnipresence of social media, the looming threat of something going in your “permanent record” was used as a means to enforce good behavior. Anything from missed homework, a bad grade or poor judgment had the potential to be a blight on your unknown future.
This consumed me as a child, not only out of fear of the repercussions but also admiration for the coordination required to ensure that the file was always mailed to the correct place. Who makes sure this happens? I wondered.
Cancer is the ultimate mark on my permanent record. I have days where the mark cuts deep as if branded on my skin like a bad tattoo. But there are also days when cancer feels like a badge of honor – a source of wisdom and a reminder that surviving, like aging, is a privilege, not a right.
On Sunday, as I do most days, I will think of others who are surviving – especially those who are also battling.
And I will celebrate the fact that I too am surviving, with profound gratitude for the people in my boat who not only continue to help me row forward, but sometimes, row for me.
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