What can I say that hasn’t already been said? You took my job, my house, my normal life, and now you take up space in my mind and body?
What do you bring to the table?
Pain and sadness. There are appointment times and pings throughout my back and shoulders as I stand in line, waiting to tell someone my name and DOB for the millionth time. There are scans and something that comes with it that was new to me then but familiar now: scanxiety. Something else familiar that you bring about is ghosting. People I never thought would betray me in such a way, dropped me in the blink of an eye. I remember the first time I had you in my life, you brought so many incredible people into it. Not only was my oncologist amazing but friends that I had briefly known turned into solid support systems throughout my treatment and beyond. Until…
Do you remember that day like I do? The day it all changed when you came rushing back into my life forever.
I remember it being cold outside. My daughter had to put on a jacket before we left the house. It’s hard to remember anything specific before your dramatic entrance that day, Cancer. Mads got a sticker for being so patient. I vaguely remember hearing my oncologist’s voice on the phone telling me it was going to be OK and we were going to figure it out. The doctor told me that I could not move my right arm anymore, and if I did, it would break further. The nurse came out with the “cancer face” on full blast, sling in her hands. She gently lifted my right arm into the black fabric of the medical device and connected it over my shoulder and around my belly. I tucked my paperwork under my left arm, entered the elevator, and…
The world stopped turning. The ground fell out from beneath me. Time stopped. The sling choked me.
“What’s wrong, Mommy?” The words echoing in my mind as we walked to the car and I fumbled for my keys. I couldn’t breathe. I texted my partner:
“Cancer is back.”
She was making hand turkeys with the kids she nannied for. Time stopped for her then, too.
If anything, Cancer, you sure know how to make an entrance. It’s amazing I’ve met you twice. The first time, I was so young. You taught me many lessons that day and beyond. The first hard lesson was to make sure the people I surround myself with are genuine. There were some snakes in the grass that year, weren’t there. You also hid something from me that year… you protected it somehow and kept it safe until it wasn’t safe anymore.
I like to think that we kept each other alive. Somehow, in my cancer-ridden body, my uterus kept her safe for 42 long weeks—and as for her? She kept me going too, even though I had no idea she existed until her birthday in July. Yes, Cancer, somehow you took away so much from me that year, but you also gave me the greatest gift. It’s a gift that has come with great clarity, that’s for sure. One that has put my health in the forefront, if only for her. I seemed to keep you at bay for quite some time until the day they put the sling on me.
You housed yourself in my arm for a while, didn’t you? I took you to work with me, like some kind of repetitive stress injury and struggled to pay my bills with you right there. You saw me sign the papers for my dream house. Helped me mow the yard and play outside with the dog and the kiddo. You watched my dreams come true only to swiftly take them away barely a month later.
You broke my heart.
The day that everyone closest to me gathered around in that house will live on forever in my memory. I remember the smells, the sounds… looking at the shiplap on the walls a month after joking with my wife about Magnolia Homes. What was it like to be a fly on the wall those days that I knew of your existence? Did you watch me cry every time I looked at my daughter? Pain filled my heart, but did it fill my body too?
I don’t know if I could ever forgive you.
What if what you’ve taught me all this time is how to truly live my life the most honest way I can? You brutally took away the image of myself I thought I had known so well. All those years of forced femininity, and wishing for a different type of body, a smaller belly, differently shaped boobs. I couldn’t get the reconstruction I wanted. Every doctor we had met with told us that it wasn’t possible, and every procedure seemed painful and Frankensteinesque. I didn’t want to do that to my body, and then, after my surprise baby, I couldn’t do that to my body. Nothing was the same after that, and the prosthesis I picked up from Nordstrom rubbed my skin raw. I wore it every day until I threw it out after your reappearance. You taught me not to care about minor things like that anymore.
Throughout your permanent time with me, I have learned so much about myself. I have found a place within such a welcoming yet painfully sad community. I have been witness to heartbreak that is indescribable to cancer muggles. My body has become a whisper of what it once was. No longer a slave to the cutlet, I have grown more gender-neutral in my ways of expression. It has become a journey of self-discovery I have yet to conquer, but am confident I will someday. After living through the ghosting of a lifetime, I now have an amazing group of people by my side. My wife’s constant love and unwavering support throughout my cancer journey and now my journey of self-discovery has been paramount to my story of survivorship.
My beautiful wife.
You barely got to know her before showing up, did you? Now you see her battle scars and hear her voice. You know she won’t back down and has no plans of letting you win. You’ve watched our bond grow stronger, toughened calluses over the soft spots that once were. You’ve watched us succumb to the scaries and the hardest days we’ve lived through.
You’ve also seen us rise from the ashes of it all.
Not only have you thrown your worst punches at us, Cancer, but you’ve made us rethink everything we thought we had mapped out for our future. Everything has been left behind and re-worked, to plan only mere weeks at a time. Now we dare to plan years at a time, dreaming about things we can accomplish in this shortened lifetime we have been given together. We don’t just dream about things either, we do them. We take the time we have been given and we use it. You’ve come on many adventures with us, Cancer. Trips to the beach, through national parks, and other little coastal towns. All while holding you close, never to flinch my arm, changing the entire way I hold my body up.
We have been shown the darker side of you, Cancer. You really can make things change in an instant. You can take a life away from a person so swiftly, only to leave traces of them behind on the lips of their loved ones. You tear families apart only to bring the immediate members of it closer and inseparable. You take away so much, yet you shed a light on what is truly important.
I can’t say that I hate you, Cancer, but I can’t say that I love you either.