Two days shy of Christmas, and I finally have a moment to catch my breath. Five nights with my parents as house guests; a blizzard; house-hunting; last minute gifts; news of my clean and clear CA125. It’s been an eventful few days, and so I am pausing to take stock.
Inevitably, I measure my progress by thinking back to this time last year. December 2008 marked the beginning of my post-treatment depression – a plunge that lasted many long weeks before I was able – with the help of my husband – to see my way clear to a Zoloft prescription, intensive acupuncture and a commitment to serious physical rehabilitation. I remember so clearly coming home from New York after Christmas, and crying hard as I thought about how much I love my nephew, and how furious and sad I was about not being able to have my own child. It was like a knife in the heart. That moment, it seemed – combined with the predictable anti-climax of the holiday season – sent me plummeting into an ocean of bad feeling that I was unable to comprehend in the immediate aftermath of surviving treatment and being told I was “cancer-free.” The winter of my discontent, indeed.
So here I am now, one year later. Much in the way I was unable to recognize my pre-cancer self in the person I became during the course of my illness, I can scarcely call up what it was like to feel so trapped, so withdrawn, so much a captive of my own impenetrable sadness. Perhaps I am just a walking testimonial to the power of psychotropic medication. But I like to think that what has happened over the past year is also a function of the hard work that I have done – physically and emotionally – to regain my sense of self and to resume truly living.
Last Sunday afternoon after the snow stopped falling, I trekked over to the gym in my awesome new Merrell boots. I changed into my Pumas and hit the treadmill, and pounded out 5.2 miles at a relatively brisk pace. It was my longest run yet, and it felt amazing, like I could have just kept going and going. I can feel myself closing in on the 10K that I am determined to run this Spring. It is within sight. I am going to do it.
This time of year, particularly after the holidays fade, it’s reasonable – and probably even healthy – to hibernate. Gather energy for the coming spring. Retreat a bit. But right now, even with the chill air and the ice underfoot, I feel warm and steady, grounded. More than that, I feel more determined than ever to stay strong and focussed and disciplined. Between my illness and the depression which gripped me last winter, I have done the withdrawal thing. I am over it.
The holiday season takes a toll, no question. There is an artificial, hyperkinetic cheer in the air which barely obscures a pervasive, bitter melancholy. Still, this year, there is a light that even the bleak midwinter cannot extinguish. It’s hard to say exactly where its origins are, but it is not hard to identify all of the things which have stoked the flame over the last twelve months – hearing U2’s “Breathe” for the first time; crossing the finish line of my first 5K; climbing a mountain in Wyoming; cooking my first Thanksgiving.
As much as cancer took from me in 2008, this year has seen an epic rebuilding, a restoration of spirit, the likes of which I never could have imagined last December. I am proud of myself, and indebted to those who have lifted me up along the way.
And so, I am wishing all of my friends, family and especially my fellow survivors, peace, joy and continued strength this season and in the coming year.