Hard truth: even after weathering a cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery – after achieving the kind of semi-permanent euphoria that comes with embracing life after almost dying – it’s possible to find yourself drained, beat-down and discouraged. Nay, depressed. It’s real. It happens. Contrary to how I feel most days, surviving cancer has not made me invincible.
The shit-storm that was the past week began with a full-bore, no-holds-barred intestinal virus; reached a high-point of crappiness when I was turned down for a position in my office that I believe I truly deserved; and wrapped up yesterday with some unpleasant realizations about what my impending parental leave will look like and, more hurtfully, how the fact that I am entering parenthood through adoption rather than childbirth leaves me in a different (and discriminated against) category in the eyes of my employer.
All delicious stuff. Really.
Does it go without saying that being struck with an intestinal virus triggers automatic cancer PTSD? Will I ever find myself face-down in the toilet bowl without recalling the time when, after my initial round of chemo, I first stared into the porcelain morass and confronted the hard reality of my illness? Will I ever experience the paralyzing grip of incessant diarrhea – lying down, drained, only to rush back to the bathroom five minutes later (repeating this cycle for hours on end) – without being reminded of the way those evil drugs ravaged and wrung me out for so many months?
But fortunately, a virus is short-lived, and after three days in seclusion and misery, I slowly emerged, ready to go on living. Yes, I ended up missing a week of half-marathon training, and two yoga classes, but I have enough confidence in my baseline strength at this point to know that when I return to yoga tomorrow evening, and get back on track with running this coming week, it won’t take long to pick up where I left off.
But lucky me, being knocked down a few pegs on the physical invincibility scale wasn’t quite enough this week. Someone, somewhere, had another lesson in mind for me, and when the dust settled, I was left with one over-arching thought: I have no bloody clue what I am doing with my life.
Not only have my husband and I signed on for this insane adoption process, and set ourselves up for any number of berserk scenarios that are completely and utterly out of control (and for which we are totally unprepared), but I have also come to the conclusion that my professional life has reached a complete dead-end, and it’s time for me to shake up that fairly large area of my life in a major way.
What an absolutely perfect one-two punch.
So while just a few short weeks ago I was basking in the glow of my first-ever head-stand, feeling about ten feet tall and utterly unstoppable – running my little heart out, generally ass-kicking my way through each day, the end of this week found me deflated and poured out, weak and confused, lost in haze of uncertainty and insecurity. All of my post-cancer triumphs seemed to have been steam-rolled, leaving me – once indomitable – flat as a pancake. And scared - though not quite “to death.”
These are the times, however, when a steadfast partner, a killer therapist and a spunky baseball team come in wicked handy. There are, indeed, small things, like a thrilling Opening Day, ninth-inning come-from-behind win from my beloved Phillies, that take some of the sting out, and lighten my heart. And then there are the essentials, the love and compassion of my dear husband, and the patience and insight of our wonderful therapist, without which I would never be able to peel myself off the sidewalk after the steam-roller has passed by. Those things, those essentials, give me the courage and strength I need, and allow me to take a breath and see that really, in spite of it all – all of the disappointment and frustration and unpleasantness that seemed to trail me at every turn these past seven days – my triumphs are still my own, and amazing things await me.
Control is illusory. We know this – we remind ourselves all the time. Nevertheless, it made a huge difference today, finally bringing home a car seat and a pack and play. We are doing this, and we are going to do it amazingly well. Planning time off from work, financial contortions – all of it will get worked out. The main thing is that we are going to be up to our eyeballs in love, and our child is going to be one lucky little bugger.
In the mean time, while the existential questions keep knocking around my brain, as I try to envision the next chapter of my life – as a mother, yes, but also as a person with gifts that I need and want to share with the world, and as someone who is seeking and will some day find true, deep fulfillment in my work, whatever it may be – as the days roll by, there is dirt in which to dig, and there are moments of bliss and insight to be found on the running trail and in the yoga studio.
Bring it all on. I am ready.