16 Aug A Cancerversary Conundrum
5 years has been on my radar for a few months now. My musings have prompted some loved ones to send flowers, a small engraved silver box, and a fabulous family meal that makes a girl feel like she’s the luckiest in the world. So many who stood by me through the trenches of treatment continue to be so much more than the proverbial rock. You know who you are and my message to you is this, “You are not a rock. You are diamond. You are all a big chunk of quartz. A mountain actually, a quartz and diamond filled mountain.”
Love and gushing aside and amidst the high fives, I’ve approached this milestone with caution. Admittedly these last clean scans were some the first that didn’t make me sob uncontrollably in release afterwards so maybe I’m making progress. But the idea of a big party to celebrate never felt right. Preferably I will just stand in awe of my good fortune. Because even though you tell me I kicked cancer’s ass; I’ve always been acutely aware of the many fighters before me who through no lack of ass kicking skills were much less fortunate than I.
Survivors will tell you that fear is like a social security number or a tattoo that permanently defines you. The Amy of that day is currently no more and the new Amy lives a life of juxtaposition. Celebrations vs insecurities, new adventures vs ridiculous distress, and blessings vs frustrations. A five year cancerversary is the closest I will get to a cure. Celebrating, but always with trepidation. Sound unhinged? Welcome to my world.
We survivors are an interesting population. We understand the blessings but never can truly bury the fear factor. Too many stories of those seemingly stagnant cells that resurface as monsters are available to us making us despair that the potentially celebratory glass of wine is tempting fate. As ridiculous as that sounds, when you didn’t invite it into your life in the first place and you’re not quite sure what constitutes an invitation for reoccurrence , you become very focused on minimizing risk. I have become an anti-cancer vigilante in all efforts to reduce risk. It is the one concept that gives me a feeling of power.
So my warrior sisters and I will maintain the biggest cancer oxymoron. C’mon, you’ve all heard it. It’s a curse and it’s a blessing.
Sounds schizophrenic I know.
Fortunately for me the scale of curse and blessing is unbalanced. I can (and have ad nauseum) listed the benefits. Why? Probably in part to the coping mechanism that turned on when I channeled my energies to all of the positives of the crazy. What this meant for me is that the upsides still outweighs the unease.
Which leads me to a final mention of the biggest gift of all: profound gratitude for the people in my life. At age 40 I still needed my mom, watched a man who cant find milk in a refrigerator rise to every occasion, and continued raising four children who dealt with much bigger worries than a mom who forgot to put money in the lunch account. My friends found every creative opportunity to reduce my load, make me laugh, and shine their light on me. Although the cancer didn’t define them; it affected them. Five years later I have a glimpse of their unique pain. My knowledge now tells me that the experience of watching a loved one be sick is often worse than being the sick one. How many mothers wouldn’t take a diagnosis for their child in a heartbeat? Cancer didn’t give anyone who loved me that choice.
Helplessness was their curse. They carried that pain without ever burdening me with it. I cant write that I love them more because it doesn’t feel measurable but my level of respect will never be diminished.
That day 5 years ago is still as clear in my memory as the all of life’s significant milestones. So many of you have suggested parties and celebrations and without planning I have already truly celebrated with you. Because for me the party is redundant. Every morning I wake up feels like a reason to celebrate. The incredible magnitude of beautiful in the world is just waiting for me to notice it. Thank you for standing beside me and noticing it too.
“Everybody dies. But not everybody lives. I want you to live.”