First came cancer...
As of a couple weeks ago, I got through my first check post-cancer: all signs point to negative. No abnormalities. No cancer. While I knew my chances for good results were high, I also held my breath. I think that maybe that’s what happens after any major health crisis. Things start to trigger worry well before they ever would have before. I’m not as worried about my next check and I know that each after will feel a little better.
While my cancer was “easy” to take care of, in certain ways, it has also been quite the opposite. I know my body is still in the process of letting go of the trauma it suffered through surgery. My mind is at least finally starting to shift gears into what is coming next… All while also thinking of those who are still suffering or who have passed. It’s not fair. I didn’t understand unfairness until cancer.
Cancer arrived for Chris around the time it came for me. Chris was a dear and special man. He left his body in April after a six month journey through medical treatment, physical ailment, and yet also the most profound examples of love and care. At least that’s what it all looked like from here. I felt lucky to know him and also I felt the deep unfairness of the disease that treated us so differently. There are no words to express how much I wish we were both okay.
Then came grief...
I didn’t know what I would mourn in my experience with cancer, but it seemed as if there was nothing off limits: my uterus, my plans, the changes in my relationship, the way nothing gets to be the same.
Shortly after Chris passed, I was heavy in so much loss. In talking with other people about grief, it occurred to me that there is no bottom that I have seen. It is as if grief gets a hold of you and opens the door a little, lets you experience the dark, and then each time it grows. The death of my father at four was a small window into the room. I watched other people cry and wondered what was happening. The passing of grandparents, the end of relationships, various deaths and loss that we all see in life take us on different journeys with grief. Then something like cancer comes and is a storm that blows the doors off the building.
But the grief doesn’t have to be… whatever it is that we seem to believe it to be in this world. It would be cliche to call it a gift, but grief does bring party favors. Some of them are not so great, like the inexplicable crying at random moments in the day, for instance, or the wide array of grief coping skills that aren’t the healthiest. On the other hand, grief can bring clarity. Grief brings you low, but it can also give you the tools to build. We all reach that (or don’t) in different ways.
Now, life moves along. The plans I had made won’t work on the same timeline, but I am making new plans and new timelines. My body isn’t the same body that it used to be, but it’s still mine and I’m learning to love and accept the differences. If you thought that just being present in your daily life was something, try being present in a world where your body is decidedly different than it was six months ago and not by choice. Or maybe just sitting with the knowledge that your very own cells started their own little rebellion against you.
Now, I’m grateful all the time for the strength of my relationships. I try to remember regularly the love and well wishes and good thoughts that went with me into the operating rooms and the doctor’s appointments. Before all this, I’m not sure I had ever felt that palpable sense of the care of others, but there it was.
Now, I can see different perspectives on grief and illness and loss. I can see life a little differently. Every day, we take for granted that next breath and I do often feel the wash of gratitude for just breathing and feeling the sun. What would life be like if we just had that sense of gratitude or that recognizing the next breath is here! And this one! And the next!
What a life. Unfairness and gratitude. Sickness and health. Living and dying.
Buddhism teaches us that a human birth is rare. I don’t think I could agree with that idea more from this side of things.
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