The Crucible of Cancer

A while back, I made the decision to not write about the post-cancer changes that were happening to my life. This is perhaps the most personal part of the journey: the re-assembly of me. But after countless encounters with friends and acquaintances over the holidays, I guess it was time to drop another little post into the sea called the Internet for people who were wondering how I am doing.

The holiday season tends to surface emotions, both good and bad. Many factors play into how the holidays are experienced and any emotional roller coaster is magnified even more for people who are in the spectrum of cancer. I am no exception to this experience, but I can safely say that I arrive to today unscathed. I am fine.

“I am fine” is an answer I have used many times in the recent past when I ran into someone I haven’t seen in awhile. “How are you?,” they would ask. “Is everything okay? How are you feeling?” Their concerned eyes searching my face for any indication – good or bad – at what words will next come from my mouth.

When I say I am fine, like “Really, I am fine,” there is a slackening of the eyes and face, and a look of slight relief. We’ve completed the delicate dance of that person not asking if the cancer is still around and of me not answering with terrible news. We can relax and chat about dogs and kids now. I am fine. Really.

There are many times when I was actively in the cancer spectrum that I said, in one way or another, that I couldn’t explain how cancer changes everything. And that’s because cancer changes literally everything. The crucible of cancer takes the old you, melts it down, and reforms a new person who looks and sounds like you but who sees and feels life in a completely different way.

There is a phrase that I keep returning to, and one that I used in my very first post about breast cancer: I don’t have that many pieces of me to give away anymore. It’s one of the first thoughts I had after receiving my diagnosis, and it still rings true nearly a year and a half later. I don’t have enough pieces anymore and what I do have is just for me.

As my friend Steve wrote in his own post, “I don’t want to be known for the rest of my life as “The Cancer Survivor.” I don’t even want to be known by that label for the rest of the year.” In the past year, I started a new job – one where no one knows my health history. I’ve enjoyed relative anonymity on that front, although I worry now that people who work with me will read this post and will see me differently than before. I am not weak or dying. I am fine. Really.

Cancer is behind me now. It is small and distant in the rear view mirror. I am much stronger because of it and – dare I say? – thankful for the experience of it, but I don’t want to continue living it everyday and in every interaction.

The crucible of cancer gave me a stronger backbone, an iron will, and a very clear vision of what I want from whatever time I have left on this earth. I am a survivor, yes, and I am proud of everything that it means. But let’s keep it there, okay?

So instead, can we talk about the awesome stuff that has happened since my final walk out of the radiation room? Like how I traveled to Houston and met Astronaut Scott Kelly, and how Rich and I vacationed in Belize a month later, and how I finally got to hike Arches National Park, and how we went on a road trip up the East Coast, and how we tried being foster parents to a dog, and how we picked a spot on the map (Lisbon, Portugal) to fly to even though we didn’t know one word of Portuguese or really anything about Portugal???

So, can we talk about that stuff instead? Because I am fine. Really.

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