Last fall, in the aftermath of my GI scopes, I remember coming home from work one evening and flashing back to the “bite blocker” being shoved between my teeth, and feeling like I was an escapee from some kind of horror movie.
What were these bizarre rituals to which I was now subject? Was I just a full-time guinea pig as a result of my cancer? Would the poking and prodding and scanning and scoping never end?
I am now a year further into my post-diagnosis journey, and I can comfortably say, no, it will not. This is what my life looks like now. If I am interested in staying alive, there is no point in fighting it. I can be angry and sad all I want; but my life depends on this. What I really ought to be doing is thanking Whomever for the chance to still be here, getting scoped and scanned on a regular basis, for the chance to try and realize some of my dreams – for myself, for the family I want to build, for the chance to create the elusive “something meaningful” that I hope will be my legacy on this earth.
It feels in a way that I have just returned from a lightning fast journey back to Planet Cancer –a place I no longer regularly dwell. Like I’ve landed back after a trans-Atlantic flight, crossing the ocean back and forth in the span of a single day, and am wandering around a once-familiar landscape feeling light-headed, disoriented and fatigued. And nostalgic for something I cannot name, perhaps for an innocence I have lost.
It feels in a way like I’m Superman, returning to life as Clark Kent after some miraculous, world-saving stunt. Only in this version, the people I encounter in my life as Clark Kent actually know that I am Superman. They know what I have fought, and endured, and how my heroism has manifested itself. They want to acknowledge and congratulate me on the remarkable thing I have achieved. But a moment later, they turn back to their own reality, while I, “Superman,” am left to wonder: What just happened?
There is no way to escape the isolation that accompanies the gown, the IV, the rolling into the operating theater. It doesn’t matter that no one is cutting into me, pulling something essential out of me (along with the something deadly.) Once you’ve been to that place, every sterile room, every masked and gloved person, is a reminder of the demons you have already fought. There is no one who can go there with you. It is yours alone.
Four days ago, I ran over 11 miles, in preparation for this weekend’s half-marathon. For just over two hours I ran, strong, steady, unflinching. Smiling, shoulders back, into the wind that whipped on Veteran’s Day. I thought about the warriors I know; they are not the ones the day was named for, but they are the ones closest to my heart, so I honored them with each determined stride. At the end of the run, I wanted to keep going. I saw a glimpse of just how much further I can push myself, how much life there is in me, how boundless that force is.
As the weekend wore on, as I celebrated the ritual of “Fake Thanksgiving” that marks the annual visit from our California family, I felt the heaviness moving in. I fought it off, with a glass of wine, snuggling with my niece and nephew, immersing myself in amazing fiction. I did what I could. But as Monday closed in, I felt like a deflating balloon, certainly not the same powerful woman who ran all those miles just a few days earlier. This is what cancer does, even in the abstract, even when the threat is vague and remote. It casts the entire world in a different palate. Color drains.
It’s not the scopes, or even the preparation. It’s no fun to be hungry all day, and spend all night on the toilet. Honestly, the drugs are pretty sweet, and the whole thing is over before it begins. No, it’s not the cameras up my arse and down my throat. It’s what they signify.
It’s the fact that for the rest of my life, I will be waiting for cancer to strike again. It’s the fact that I can never fully move on from the darkness that crept in four years ago, and which continues to lurk around the edges of my happiness.
So there are these days. Days when I am catapulted back, pushed down sterile corridors, pricked with needles.
But these days pass. The darkness recedes – perhaps not completely, but enough to allow the brilliance of the now to shine.