When my doctor walked into the room she wrapped me in a hug and said, “So much has happened since I last saw you.” I was undone. She offered me tissues as I wiped the makeup from under my chin, and tried to croak out words to reassure her that I am really fine, just fine. Thirty minutes later, she made several referrals and instructed me to call if I had any further questions. She hugged me again as I left.
I don’t think I cried like this when the ER doctor said I had a mass on my kidney, or when the surgeon said there was only one option and it needed to be done soon. In the moments of the crisis, I was in shock and numb. After my diagnosis, it took several days to even begin to feel the weight of my new reality. After my surgery, I was so worn out and frail that I couldn’t have worked up a good cry to save my life. I knew I was getting better when a friend stopped by for a visit and asked me how I was and I began to cry.
I trained as a counselor, so I know what I’m dealing with. Greif. The grand swirl of emotions that accompany any grave loss. It’s frustrating to realize that even though I lived, I am still dealing with the trauma and shock of the diagnosis and violence of the treatment. So, even though I am moving forward, grateful and relieved to be healthy and whole, I am also left with a bucket full of emotions that must be attended to so they don’t overrun my life.
Some days, I am tempted to ask for medication. To flat-line all of this emotion and just get over it all ready. Instead, Keith and I have been talking about how important it seems to honor this process. To feel the emotions, to listen to what they have to teach me, and to allow them to do their work in my heart. Because of my history with depression, I am careful and trusting those who love me best to help me know if I need more than just time.
I think being in the doctor’s office, talking about the physical aftermath of my surgery reminded me of how vulnerable I now feel. I’ve always hated doctor’s offices. I’ve avoided them like the plague. For a few years, I refused to even go in for my normal checkups. I hate the vulnerability, the lack of control, the sense of others knowing more about my body than I do. Nothing about the last few months has made that better.
A friend commented, when I told her about my six-month scans, that she wished they were three months instead. I can’t imagine! I feel like I need the time between. To live and breathe and inhabit my life. Time to not have to think about what those scans might say. I am determined to fully live in the in-between moments rather than waiting to find out what happens next. It seems, I’m particularly good a denial.
Generally, I have a difficult time expressing anger, but I am recognizing frustration and irritation over things that usually don’t bother me. A couple weeks ago, I came home so irritated after an afternoon excursion, that I put myself to bed. There are moments of supreme annoyance, of irrational irritation, and just general frustration as I move through my everyday life. One moment, I am perfectly content and the next I could burn it down and start all over.
Normally, I am pretty positive by nature and choice. I have found that focusing on the positive, and cultivating gratitude have served me well in my life. And I am incredibly grateful for the early intervention, the successful surgery, and the positive pathology report. My life would look very different if these things had not been on my side.
At the same time, it doesn’t serve me well to not acknowledge the reality of the bomb that went off in the middle of my life. My cancer diagnosis touched everything. Everything in my life. Things I have always taken for granted, are no longer givens. Walking through this diagnosis has brought mortality into focus. There are no guarantees. Facing that is hard… and I think I am just beginning.
It feels like time itself has changed. There is never going to be enough of it from here on out. It makes me think about how I want to use my days differently. How I want to be in those days. It makes me realize that if there are things I want to do, I probably should get on them.
There is a sense of innocence lost. Of course, I knew before this that life would not go on forever. Yet, I could not imagine what that might look like. Now, I don’t have to imagine. I lived through enough of the crushing reality of fear and frailty to have a pretty clear sense of what is possible.
I imagine in the years to come my perception will readjust and I’ll find a new normal. It probably won’t be as raw and tender as I feel right now. There seems to be quite a bit of pressure to acknowledge the positive and skim over the rest but, I think it’s okay to be here for now. To take a moment to pay attention to the aftermath of such a powerful moment in my life and take time to sort through all of the feelings associated with it.