This is a difficult post to write.
Earlier this week I met with my surgeons to discuss the final pathology reports, of all which came back clear. The result of the surgery was as good as anyone could have hoped. My doctors are justifiably proud of themselves, and for now at least, I will be spared the additional traumas of chemotherapy and radiation. I should be happy, and of course, I am. And yet…
I have been told that some people who hear the words all clear or remission from their oncologists actually experience a special sort of depression instead of the elation one would expect. It is totally counterintuitive, but then again, emotions often are. I would not say that I am depressed, but I would say that in the days following my own good news, I have felt what the older generation used to call blue. My pain is almost gone and I am healing well. My bladder is even functioning on its own. But my fatigue feels deeper and my tolerance for my own impatience all the more frustrating. Why is this?
I can only think that what I and others feel at supposedly happy times like these is a let down. For a significant time, we turn all our energies towards conquering this one huge foe. It saps us of all our strength, both physical and mental, but we do it. We win the cancer war, or at least this present major battle. But then after an initial celebration, we wake up to a leadened sense of now what. Now what do I do? Now what am I supposed to feel? Do I just say, well that’s over with, and get on with life as it was? Who can even remember what that life was like, anyway? And for me, personally, there was the realization that despite the day’s good report, my body was still only halfway through it’s initial phase of recuperation, and then there would be a second surgery with it’s own set of complications and worries, and then years of monitoring and fearful scans. My body might be free of cancer now — and please, don’t think for a moment that I am belittling my incredible luck or minimizing the horrible truths that others are faced with instead — but cancer is still with me and, most likely always will be.
I have enough self awareness to realize how melodramatic this might sound. I might never need to be treated for cancer again. I will eventually leave my house again, go out with friends, travel, feel at the top of my game. I know that will happen. But nonetheless, life has changed and the realization is oddly familiar. It feels like an adolescent loss of innocence, now experienced in advanced middle age (or as my son once put it, the summer of my winter). Honestly, cancer is not the worst thing that has ever happened to me. That worse thing happened in my thirties when our son, Sam, died. I learned then the hard way what life can really mean. I learned then the true meanings of fear, insecurity and loss. But over the years, those lessons were gradually blanketed over by subsequent times of joy. The feelings, of course, never went away, though, and now they have sprouted anew. Fear, insecurity and loss, those most human of emotions, are also the most challenging foes for my weapons of patience, trust and optimism to face.
Luckily, afternoons drifting in and out of sleep have reminded me of another, less practiced weapon in my arsenal that I have used before and which I can pull out of my metaphorical quiver once again – pretending. On those days when I feel defeated, I can pretend to feel patient, trusting and optimistic. I can pretend to feel strong. If I pretend long enough, eventually the pretense will become true. That’s a trick which has worked for me before. Given time, I think it can work for me again.