Monday, October 8, 2012

The "After" Life

I touched a bit on what life is like since finishing treatment but I spent most of it focusing on how one begins to bounce back from depression.  For the record, I’m still trying to figure that out.  But in effort to not let a reasonably decent pun (as seen in my title) go to waste, I wanted share what the day-to-day living looks like when one has cancer.

I feel like I’ve mentioned the ex who had cancer.  If not, the story pretty much goes: when he was 18, my most recent ex had the same type of cancer I have (though it may not have been the same subset).  Anyway, when I first met him, I just thought he was playing the Byron-esque brooding tragedy as girl-nip.  (Obviously, in my case, it was working.)  But just coming out of my suburban bubble, and into my college bubble, I’d had very little experience with tragedy and life-changing events at that point.  I just figured the love of a good woman and few lite rock love songs could charm him out of his funk; cue the sunset and happily ever after.

But, what he couldn’t really verbalize in a way I got, and what I’m only finally now understanding, is that even if you become a cancer survivor, a part of you still dies anyway.  In a serious, five-stages-of-grief kind of way.  You can (and should) go back to living your normal life, but you will never fit into it exactly the same way again.  Your perspective on everything changes.

One of the biggest things I’m sure I’ve mentioned is my feeling of security.  I no longer get tickles in my throat and back pains from sleeping poorly.  I assume any of these signs are indicators my tumor is metastasizing and I need to get a CT scan immediately.  This fear would cripple me on a daily basis if I allowed it to.  Instead, I use the excellent, time-tested Puritan methods of denial and repression.  For the record, this is not a long-term solution to any problem, but right now I’m in a fake-it-til-I-make-it place with my recovery, and it gets me out the door.

In a more humorous setting, after not drinking for nine months, and drinking very little two months before that, you can imagine my alcohol tolerance is non-existent.  What would have been considered “hydrating” in college turns me into a crazy crying wreck now.  I’m still working on figuring out what my limits are with sometimes humiliating/entertaining results.  Like the story of seeing my ex at the baseball game… Luckily we’ve know each other for nine years, so this isn’t the first time he’s seen me like that, but embarrassing none the less.  Especially with my work friends around.  On the upside, I haven’t been drinking nearly as much as I was pre-diagnosis, which was getting seriously unhealthy, and I have no desire to go back to that person anyway.

Truthfully, I’m not doing anything great with my life post-cancer so far, probably because until December, it’s not really going to feel like I’m post-cancer.  I should probably feel more guilty that I’m not helping children or the homeless or whomever, but I don’t have a handle on my life yet.  I do know that my career calling is going to be in some combination of writing and public service (I hope).  I’m currently job hunting around some non-profits and opportunities that would allow me to use my writing/journalism/PR/education background in some ways.  Life’s just way too short to be just making a living.  I’m trying to be more careful about my health.  I currently meet with a very scary trainer for bootcamp twice a week.  The classes are amazing and I feel awesome, but permanently crippled.

Really, I just care about being someone my friends and family are proud of and not letting my cancer define me.  Easier said than done, obviously, but…  I don’t know.  I don’t have the answers.  Instead, I just throw my thoughts out into the Cloud, hoping to make sense out of them and hoping they resonate with other people. 

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