And yet, in my life, I am asked to do this daily. Three children, a husband, a house, the constant ebbs and flows of life and family and the demands those things take. Add stage IV breast cancer to this mix and it’s a daunting task at best.
“Too painful to think about” is something others can afford to say or think about those like me.
But I cannot. My body does not let me.
Perhaps having hair, looking healthy, betrays me.
Perhaps people forget what my body is enduring.
Perhaps they forget on a daily basis the struggle it is for me to do what I need to do. On some days the hardest task I have is the mental component of trying to deal with this all.
They do not know that while I drink my coffee in the morning and type an email I am prone to worry. I wonder if pain in my side or my back or my neck is cause for concern. I am mentally comparing the location of the pain to the bright flashes on the latest PET scan. I try to remember my body’s details on that scan. I create a split screen in my mind. I contemplate if the spots align, if they don’t. I have memorized the words in the radiology report. When I want to torture myself I recite them.
There is no “moving past cancer” anymore or counting down to the end of chemotherapy. There will be no day of claiming victory and yet my victory is defined by each day. Winning is not possible, its re-definition now just seeing how long I can keep running, outsmarting the cancer that’s here to stay.
I waved a triumphant flag six years ago. I was done with surgery, treatment. My chances of a recurrence or worse, a metastasis: small, small, small. Single digit. The odds were in my favor. “Look where those odds got me!” I scream inside.
I serve as a terrible, disturbing reminder to those just starting treatment: you can’t be sure. You can’t get cocky. You can’t ever be positive that you are done. Perhaps you live your daily life that way, but it can happen. Even years later, it can happen.
That wily son of a bitch can lay in wait, cells silent, dormant for a while. And then, when you least expect it, spring forth to attack, to ravage, to ruin all you know is true. This is why I bristle when people with my particular kind of cancer say they are “cured.”
I hesitate when people ask me how I am.
I know they want to believe I am okay.
Even for today.
They want to believe there will be a happy end to the story.
But there cannot be.
This is not my middle age. I will not be that lucky. While others complain of gray hair or wrinkles or saggy bellies I long for them. I want to earn those badges.
I want to flaunt my age.
But let me flaunt a number that begins with a 5… or 6… or more…
I now know this is why my doctor had that look on his face when he told me the news last October that my cancer had metastasized. This is why, when he gave me the news, he let me cry and swear again and again and again when every word in the English language but “Fuck” left my vocabulary.
This is why a particular doctor I know looks at me with sadness in his eyes when I see him, when he hugs me, when he tells me “you look good.”
That doctor looks at me like that because he has the curse of knowledge: he knows how this will go.
He knows. He knows this story, he sees it daily. He knows what’s coming. He doesn’t want me to see the ending but it will come. All we are doing is pushing the “pause” button as many times as we can. When I hug him I feel it. The regret. The pain. He knows what waits for me. It makes me sad to see him in the hall sometimes, as if that feeling can be transferred between us in a look, a hug, a touch. But that compassion, that pain… well, those are honest moments.
Perhaps I ramble today. Perhaps my weary body and mind make no sense. Perhaps I should hit “delete” and send this down the drain. But this is all part of my story. If I am feeling it, I know somewhere someone else can relate to it too.
Every day is a struggle of one kind or another. I am doing the best that I can.
And oh, how I wish I could forget. How I wish I could forget.