from a friend in the UK, responding to me:
” ‘Picking up the pieces after cancer’ must be a very difficult thing to do (says me, who knows nothing) but you know what, it’s a wonderful thing to read. You are PICKING UP and it’s AFTER. How are you feeling? Do you feel like nothing is the same anymore and your close friends around you have changed? Do you feel able to fit back into your life, KWIM?”
What a wonderful question. Life AFTER cancer feels like being honorarily 80 (and the 80- year olds out there can tell me I’m wrong) in terms of perspective (it’s the mortality thing I think), and still being relatively young all at the same time (rock-n-roll, what a joyful thing, right?!). A few things I’ve noticed:
* Little-to-no tolerance for negativity, it reverberates around my being way too much, as if I were one giant gong hit full force. NB: This is really different from people who tell it like it is, what it’s like to live in their own shoes with their very specific experiences. I’ve always loved that and I still do. I’ll have to think more on what distinguishes negativity that hits me in the stomach from someone sharing the reality of their life. There is a difference and it’s important.
* A real need to repair things, to have things be well-maintained. The hyper-vigilance I now have about my body extends to my environment. The dripping faucet? I’m on it. Fixed. That new sound in the car? On it. Checked out. The battery in the pedometer? Not only got a new one, but set up a little repair kit (mini screwdriver, replacement battery) for the next time that battery goes out. Etc. etc.
* re: fitting back into my life -the cancer counselor calls it being “out of sync.” Mostly I notice it when I learn something from a colleague, friend or family member that I didn’t know that I thought I normally would have known, and I think “and where was I? Oh yeah, that’s right, I was dealing with cancer treatment this past year.” It’s like having taken a year out of time, much like returning from abroad actually. Definitely a process of re-acculturation. Sometimes it’s quite surreal, truth be told.
* The immediate world around me is the same, more or less, but I’m slowly finding out what things have changed in my “year away” if you will. Inflation here in the states is the most noticeable thing – gas prices are astounding, food prices seem to be significantly higher than a year ago, and medical costs, well, don’t even get me started. Here in Portland, the “in” car when I went into treatment was the Subaru, now it seems to be the Prius. Things like that.
* I’m really lucky in that my close friends have been rocks, absolute stations of sanity, and if anything I’ve reconnected with more old friends, and made a few new ones here and there. It’s been very stabilizing and lovely. I feel blessed.
Basically, I spent a year in cancerland and now I’m back, though it’s much more integrated than coming home from abroad, as I skirt the edges of cancerland with each checkup (all clear so far!) and will for many years to come. I am however participating in several “healing after a trip to cancerland” programs (retreats, cooking class, yoga), but I no longer live there. I’m home. For which I am deeply, deeply grateful.
All in all, at this moment, life is good and I’m trying to eat it up with a big spoon. 🙂 After years of not feeling well and pacing my energy and saying “no” to this or that invitation, these days I’m saying yes. I want the world, I want to be in it. Speaking of which…..off for my walk!