It is exactly one year ago today that I wrote my first blog post about cancer, From Covid to Cancer. For the past few months, my family and I have found ourselves wondering about the timing. Isn’t it a year since the diagnosis? Isn’t it a year since the first surgery? I would have thought that I wouldn’t need to ask. How could I forget such an important anniversary? But it shows the weirdly fluid sense of itself that time has taken on over the last twelve months that all the months have run together while also shooting apart. It was interesting to read that post of March 30, 2021, from a place of experience and, perhaps, resignation. The tone of that post is one of optimistic excitement, as if I was about to embark on a great adventure. And perhaps I was. I even remember saying to my son that cancer is one of life’s great challenges, and although it isn’t something that I wished for, as someone who has always tried to live life’s possibilities fully, facing this new trial would only enrich my experience. When I said that, I was proud. Now reading it in black and white, I feel almost embarrassed. What a weird thing to say. How incredibly naive. But this isn’t the first time that I have been grateful for my naivete. My innocent nature is a constant source of hilarity to my children and my husband, but I know that it is partially that very innocence that allowed me to find the strength to face the unknown of cancer with such optimism.
Six months ago I posted Are We Done Yet, the last in my series of cancer blogs. The tone of that post was very different. By October 2021, I had written eighteen posts about my experience with the disease. Over that time I clearly lost some of my innocence, but the optimism remained, and it remains today, six months later, although the feeling of optimism has changed. Yes, I still believe I will be alright, I will go on to live my life for years to come, there will be more work, more travel, more celebrations. But all of that is tempered with the knowledge that the stretch of years ahead of me is not endless. The work is changing, and I question my output more as I realize that the fount of energy needed to accomplish everything I had hope to accomplish is not quite as deep as I had once thought. There will be travel, but maybe not as often or as long. There is less hopping on a plane and more gazing out a window. But all of these realizations may well have come through the normal act of aging, cancer or not, and of course these realizations are bound to change again and again. That is the nature of innocence lost, I suppose. But also, it is the gift of awareness found.
So how am I today, one year into the cancer journey? Is my bout with cancer over yet? No. There are still functions that don’t function the way I would like, but they are all manageable. My body looks different in ways that, probably , only I can tell – but, hey, isn’t that true of all of us? Yet my daily energy is back. My afternoon rests are due more to pleasure than need.( I’ve always loved a good nap.) I’m not afraid to leave the house or be on my own. And of course there are new challenges, completely outside of my own health issues, which life has continued to throw at me but which I am now able to face with a necessary combination of empathy and personal boundaries.
But the biggest change, I think, is my relationship to work. I love my work. I do it happily. I take pride and pleasure in it. But, I only do what I need to do or feel like doing. I don’t force myself to work additional hours just to assuage some guilt about not accomplishing more. I allow myself to enjoy what I enjoy, but more importantly, to put aside what I don’t. But as the months have gone by, this has changed, too. Throughout the year, even in the most difficult days, I have kept up my work running my non-profit, Writing Through. Creating new programming and growing this organization has kept me rooted in the world around me. It has always taken me outside myself and allowed me to feel as if I was making a positive contribution even if only from a laptop on my bed. The work I hadn’t been able to do, though, was the work which had been the core of my identity for decades – my creative writing. For months and months I didn’t have the brain space or the emotional fortitude to write poetry or even begin to imagine tackling a novel again. I had the energy to work towards developing the voices of others, but my own voice had grown quiet. But of all the lessons proudly learned during this time, one of the ones I am most grateful for was giving myself permission not to write. I never forced it. I sat with the idea that my publishing days may be over, and although I periodically bothered my publisher with my worries about the delays in bringing out my newest novel, those worries weren’t about some frustrating backlog of poems and novels that were waiting in the pipeline. Instead, my impatience was about wanting to put a full stop on this part of my work. If I was never going to write creatively again, so be it. But please, let the bookshelf be complete.
I stopped asking myself the question, am I a writer? If a writer is someone who writes, then either I am, I was, or I will be. It stopped mattering. And then a funny thing happened, as funny things often do. Once I gave up the need to write, the desire to write came back. I wrote a poem last summer. Then a couple of months later, I wrote another one. I even submitted something to a journal. And then, just a few weeks ago, I started to take all the poems I had been writing for over five years for an imagined collection and reread them, organized them, started to edit and mold and then, write some more. This new collection which I had let go of, now, I know, will be completed. I have even started to noodle possibilities for another novel, with new characters, a different setting, and new themes. There will be much to say about all that in future blog posts. But how often those posts will appear on your screens is yet to be seen. If I have nothing to say, or nothing I feel like saying, then the posts will wait.
So how do I sum all this up, now one year post diagnosis? Well, It’s been a long and complicated twelve months. There is still a view outside my window. It is different than it was, but it’s still beautiful.