on becoming a cancer fairy godmother

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Last night’s brutal Phillies loss makes Friday seems about a million years ago.  Perhaps I should have made an attempt to commit that day’s thoughts to writing earlier, but now – Sunday afternoon, with time further warped due to the end of daylight savings (I am convinced time actually stopped sometime in the last few weeks, from the terrific and terrible beauty of the playoffs) – I finally have a moment to take a breath and reflect.

It both pleases and alarms me to realize that I have reached a point where I am no longer preoccupied with my own cancer every day.  A few weeks ago, when I sat sharing a drink with Hottie Bucks, he asked about the extent to which the fact of my cancer was still “present ” in my life.  I remember saying that I still feel angry and motivated by my cancer experience – angry about the loss which I associate with it, and motivated to try and turn the experience into something positive – particularly helping young adults who come after me to have more support as they combat the sense of isolation that accompanies a diagnosis.

All of that remains true.  What I recognize now, though, is how so much of the fear has dissipated, and resolved into something else.  Strength?  Wisdom?  Pure joy?  I am not quite sure how to characterize the feeling.  But it is surely different.

Perhaps a great deal of this is attributable to the miracle of pharmacology (three cheers for Zoloft!), and the even greater miracle of First Descents (I honestly don’t think I have experienced a single moment of feeling scared or hopeless since camp.)  Who knows.  The fact is that there is a lightness to my step now, a lightness that feels ingrained and enduring.

It is in the context of this almost Zen-like sense of calm and positivity that I found myself, unwittingly, transforming into a cancer Fairy Godmother last Friday.  In the last few weeks, I rather unexpectedly learned that two acquaintances are dealing with cancer and related scares.  One friend is dealing with what appears to be a recurrence of the cancer for which she was successfully treated many years ago.  The other is trying to get to the bottom of persistent gynecological issues that have prompted a referral to an oncologist (I actually put her in contact with my own amazing doctor.)

When these women approached me about their issues – looking for a sympathetic ear, for practical information about getting to the right doctor –  I felt deeply gratified.  Finally, I was able to derive something of value from the insane torment of my own diagnosis and treatment.  Somehow, being able to support and counsel these other young adults dealing with the frustration of a recurrence, the fear of a mysterious set of symptoms, revealed meaning in the madness.  And it added to my own sense of triumph over this wretched disease.

Coincidentally (or not), last Friday – a day when I had encounters with both of these women about their situations – I also had a long phone conversation with a woman, newly diagnosed with ovarian cancer, with whom I have been matched through Imerman Angels.  This is the second woman with whom I have been connected (in addition to having my own “angel” in the early days of my diagnosis), and the experience of talking to others who are in the immediate grip of the fear and uncertainly of a new diagnosis continues to feel powerful.  Not only does providing this kind of support and guidance to other young adults with cancer give me an opportunity to continue processing my own trauma, but it re-enforces the knowledge of how far I have come, and the strength I have gathered.  It never occurred to me, when I signed on to participate in Jonny’s program, that I would derive such profound benefits myself, or that the act of being an “angel” would in fact further my own healing.  I just wanted to do something for people who were going through an ordeal which I myself had survived.

The beauty of these relationships, and the act of supporting and tending to other young adults facing these nightmare scenarios, is that everyone gains, everyone is healed or helped in some measure.  And the connections we form are bigger and more powerful than any disease.

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