Yet another day on the cancer roller-coaster, though not quite in the way I might have anticipated. December 1: the diagnosis anniversary is nigh. Thursday, 12/3, is really my own personal D-Day, even though it does not signify the day I was diagnosed (that came two days later.) It’s the day I sat down with Dr. Chu for the first time and listened to her grimly pronounce that she would not be able to tell for certain about the nature of my tumor – or if it had spread – until she opened me up. Nevertheless, it’s the day that I knew I had cancer.
There was no doubt in my mind. That was the moment. I knew even before I arrived at the office. That morning, I woke up with screaming abdominal pain, and when I sat on the toilet, straining to move my bowels, I passed out. I was standing at the edge of the precipice, and I knew it. I didn’t need an oncologist to tell me what was wrong with me.
So D-Day is Thursday, and by any logical measure, it would make sense for me to be feeling a bit off, replaying the moments right before my life changed forever, in a kind of slow-motion re-animation. I distinctly remember going through that at this time last year. I remember slowly giving way as the day wore on – fighting back the tides of anger and sadness until I could hold them no longer. I rushed out of work at 3 o’clock, passing one of my bosses on the way, fighting back tears, and cried on the train the whole way home.
Who knows. Maybe the same thing will happen later this week. But right now, I doubt it. Right now, I am drinking cheap red wine and thinking a little bit about Obama and Afghanistan and listening to the Beatles’ “Long, Long, Long,” and I feel like the Pied Piper of Young Adult Cancer. I am paying it forward. I am shining a light, doing what I can to help others who are going through some version of the nightmare which I endured, and it feels amazing.
Today contained a bit of classic cancer-induced emotional whiplash: one moment, I was learning from a friend that despite a course of drugs for a recurrence of her cancer, a new tumor has been discovered. Hearing this, plain old rage constricted my heart. A short while later, I was on the phone with another young woman, who reached out to me through a mutual friend, learning of her recent ovarian cancer diagnosis, just five months after she’d finished treatment for breast cancer. We talked for half an hour, swapping stories and diagnoses. Her story, too, broke my heart a bit. Still, it was remarkable to see, once again, how the common experience of cancer fosters such powerful, instantaneous connections between complete strangers.
It’s a fine line, a delicate balance, reaching out and into the lives of people whose entire world has been turned upside down by this disease. I want so much to be able to alleviate the fear and uncertainty and sense of isolation that I suspect most people battling cancer face, but I recognize the limits that exist. I just have to trust my own instincts (as my husband so often reminds me) and the people with whom I am connecting. But what I do know is that all of us together, sharing, uniting and gathering strength from one another, form a courageous front indeed.
I am not so naive as to think that our energy alone is going to cure this disease. The science, the medicine, the screwed up biology – all of that is beyond me, and there are undoubtedly years to go before this evil disease is eradicated forever. But I have to believe – I DO believe – that the simple act of forming connections with other patients and survivors, of finding the courage to talk about our experiences, and letting the world know the realities that we have faced, is a vital step toward that end.
So here’s to all of us – to those of us struggling to reach out of our own personal darkness while in the grip of active disease and treatment and recurrence. To those of us just emerging from that darkness, learning to live again. And to those of us who are ready to put on the gloves, or pick up the (virtual) pen, and fight with everything we have. For regardless of where we are in our journey, we are indomitable, every one.