As I was walking to court this afternoon, for what promised (and proved) to be a very uneventful hearing, I felt a strange sensation creeping over me. It was a faint sensation, not overpowering, but it was vaguely and disturbingly reminiscent of the sense of dread that often overtook me in the early days of trying to figure out how to live again after cancer. I hadn’t felt this unsettling wave of panic in what seems like ages. Today, it seemed to come out of nowhere, triggered by nothing in particular. But the sensation was all too familiar.
It’s best described as a travelling terror that disrupts my sense of balance and sure-footedness. It’s as if my mind and body are floating away from each other, disconnecting in the grip of an acute awareness of the mystery of what lies within me, of feeling like I am moving inexorably toward a head-on collision with the disease that almost killed me. As if my tumor might roll around from behind a building as I walk by and suddenly grow into some hideous, Shelob-esque creature, and devour me whole.
The feeling emanates from my legs, from the tingling in my neuropathic feet, the place where the strongest reminders of my treatment linger. It floats through my middle, where it encounters my empty abdominal cavity, the place where my cancer lived. Finally, it lands in my intellect, and I am chilled once again as I think about what happened to me, how much worse it could have been, how it might have ended – how it might yet end one day.
I noticed the feeling, and kept walking. I made sure to breathe deeply. I came out of my head. I thought about the run I took this morning. I thought about how after pumping my legs for 40 minutes, my body was charged and ready to keep going for another 40 minutes. I turned my mind to my current state of wellness.
The three-year anniversary of my diagnosis is fact approaching, just a few weeks away. Thanksgiving will always represent the last, frozen moment of blissful ignorance, before my life changed forever. I like to think that I have reached a point where these arbitrary days on the calendar will no longer trip my emotional switches, and send me careening back to this time three years ago, to the eve of my illness. Life is charging forward, almost at breakneck speed. We are gearing up to build a family; it’s really going to happen. Over the last few days, I almost found myself thinking, “Cancer is receding. I am moving away from it.” Life is becoming about so many other things. Exciting, beautiful things.
Perhaps that’s why the chill wind that blew as I walked to court this afternoon put my mind back to that place I never want to go again. Perhaps it is the notion that I am actually walking away from cancer, trying to leave it in the past, that caused my ancient anxieties to rise up and stir within me.
As familiar as that brief moment felt, and as much as it reminded me of the panic which so often gripped me in the early days of my return to Life on Earth, the speed and deftness with which I vanquished it was something quite new. Now, unlike then, I have the legacy of the last two years to remind me how strong and healthy I am. Now, unlike then, I have the ability to draw on my own inner fortitude. Now, unlike then, I have the capacity to take myself out of the fear of the unknown, and ground myself firmly in the wonder of the now.