The Elephant in the Room is Cancer. Tea is the Relief Conversation Provides.

My Path to “Re–”

by Lauren PattersonSurvivor, Choroidal MelanomaFebruary 14, 2024View more posts from Lauren Patterson

It has been nearly two years since diagnosis, and I feel so far from rediscovering myself.

Reclaiming my body.

Resuming my life.

Recapturing lost time.

Or repairing broken relationships.

Instead, I fear relapse, re-traumatization, and the (grim) reaper. The relentless apprehension of the unknown weighs heavily as I grapple with cancer and its impact on my future and family.

My life was abruptly and completely disrupted by a rare and aggressive form of cancer, a diagnosis typically reserved for those in their 60s. This unexpected turn of events forced me to reevaluate everything I deeply cherished, leaving me with profound questions. It has left me partially blind. It has left me resentful. It has left me afraid. Cancer is a journey only truly understood by those who have walked a similar path.

I had bold goals. I was happily parenting two beautiful children, dreaming of their future, planning an ambitious life with my husband, in a career I loved, and in the throes of grad school. I was steadfast in my faith, though I would not consider myself overly religious. My life was blessed, and it felt that way up until rapid-fire medical referrals ended with a three-word sentence, uttered with a deadpan voice, “You have cancer.”

Dreaming, planning, and learning have transformed into a quiet, desperate plea, begging fortune for my kids to retain lasting memories of me. A tapestry of devotion and faith unraveled, slipping away over the course of mere months. Plans and schooling are paused. Life, once so vibrant and filled with hope, has faded to grayscale. I feel so far removed from my previous life, left only with the memories.

I have grown increasingly reclusive; academic reading now swings between two extremes: reading to my sweet children or delving into scholarly papers on ocular melanomas and clinical trial prospects—should metastasis rear its head—and palliative care. Introspective reflection and training sessions on my Peloton serve as the conduits for processing or perhaps, more accurately, experiencing my emotions.

Relationships have changed with friends and acquaintances. Mentally, I systematically repel the well-meaning compliments on my appearance and mental resilience from my friends, family, and colleagues. I remain gracious in accepting their words, recognizing their underlying desire to (re)establish connections with me. I often find myself silently replying to their comments, while contemplating a repertoire of more thoughtful phrases that might equip me when I feel the urge to yell, “Resilience isn’t a damn choice sometimes. You do what you gotta do to stay alive!” I can never recall those phrases when needed though—perhaps a side effect of treatment.

Even though life feels less colorful than it once was, my children are my unwavering reason for being. When I inadvertently lose my temper with them, an overwhelming wave of guilt washes over me, prompting profound reflection on my (potentially) reduced time with them. How can I, their mother, experience anger towards these two little humans so earnestly trying to figure this whole life thing out? If my journey takes an untimely turn, will they remember me as the maternal figure who loved them fiercely, was their sanctuary, and nurtured their dreams? Or will they remember the angry mom, a byproduct of grappling with cancer’s relentless onslaught and ceaseless trepidation? The nagging uncertainty remains: will they remember me at all?

There are days when a welcome respite from the fear washes over me. My mind, medications, Peloton sessions, or guidance from my therapist rescue me from the spiral, pulling me back from the brink. In these moments, I see glimmers of hope. I am aware of its presence, though it often remains tantalizingly out of reach.

During late-night moments of reflection on the life I’ve both embraced and hesitated to live, I find myself regretting my past fears of the future. Rationally, I acknowledge that control over the future eludes us all.

I am compelled to empower myself, to chart a course that allows me to revolt against my fears and live fully for the sake of my husband, my children, and, most importantly, myself. Steps I can take to reclaim the laughter and love with friends and family I have held so dear throughout my life. I also consider the impacts I can make in nurturing my present physical health and the prospects I can aspire to reclaim for my future self.

There is insufficient research on cancers affecting adolescents and young adults (AYA). I have firmly resolved that if I can contribute, even modestly, to those on a similar path, I am not only reclaiming my own future but also making a meaningful impact on the realm of research. My selection as a participant in a clinical study examining the significance of physical activity of AYA cancer patients further bolsters my commitment to reclaiming my life while advancing scientific knowledge.

The profound self-regard that once defined me now stands as a distant memory. Here I stand, clumsily yet earnestly seeking to renew and revive my life. To find purpose. To chart a path, however muddled it might be.

This transformation will undoubtedly take time. As I scrutinize my reflection in the mirror, I engage in an internal dialogue with the person staring back, pondering how we jointly rebuild, navigate the realms of discomfort and the unknown, reestablish control, and move forward. I am acutely aware that I can never fully revert to the person I once was; she is long gone. In her place, melancholic eyes stare back at me, yet I harbor hope that a reimagined self will soon emerge. Together we will muster the strength to march forward, hand in hand, into an uncertain yet cautiously optimistic future.

Our mission is clear:

Reclaim our body.

Resume our life.

Recapture lost time.

And, most importantly, repair the broken relationship with ourself. Recommiting us anew to a future, one vibrant and filled with color and hope, and we pledge to do everything in our power to be present for it.

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