I met a woman in the summer of 2012 who was everything I wanted to be. She had a security and sense of herself that was something I had always aspired to achieve. She had a confidence about her, but also a kindness and humility. She was light and airy, but grounded. She had this great job, living alone in Manhattan in a cute little East Village apartment, had a wonderful boyfriend who was fun, whip smart and talented, and I remember that she fell in love with him for all of those reasons, but mostly for this intangible and magical charm that he had. She had spent the better part of the year chasing after him with the confidence of someone who knows they can light up a room and make anyone fall in love with them, and it worked! They were in that honeymoon stage of a relationship, perfectly paired with hot summer nights, but it seemed like the kind of relationship that would stay forever like that. He played in a band, and all of their friends were stylish and bright and easy and cool. They all vacationed together, they went to beaches, to bars, to parties. They stayed up all night sometimes having long conversations fueled by the intoxication of endless August nights (and some other things). This woman had it all, she was 30 years old, and had the joy and peacefulness that I spent all of my twenties trying to achieve, battling against my anxieties and my insecurities. Trying to get to the bottom of my demons. Trying on different boys for size. Living with roommates, struggling to figure out what I wanted and where I fit. Trying to learn to be selfless without being resentful. Aching. Growing. Well this woman had done it, she had all of the pieces of her life comfortably and beautifully in place. It was something I would have envied enormously except that this woman was me and I had finally done it. I had finally chased away and beaten back the deamons of a very rocky childhood and I was exactly where I wanted to be.
I miss her. I'm angry that she was taken from me so quickly. It feels cruel.
My diagnoses came several months after that wonderful summer. The summer of 30. Summer was over and winter rushing in. It was a crushing diagnoses that stripped me to the core. Slowly my confidence and security faded. I tried to hold on to her, to that woman I had finally become, but she was fading. I continued working through chemo, I traveled, I wrote, I went to therapy, but I could feel myself changing. And when the surgeries started, I was gutted. Figuratively and literally. Coming home from the hospital after one surgery or another or another, my boyfriend would prop me up on the couch before he left for work, making sure I had everything around me I needed. He would kiss me goodbye, the tears streaming down my cheeks.
I would stare at the TV all day, envious of older couples in commercials for arthritis medication riding bicycles, envious because I felt that would never be us, growing old and riding bicycles, but also envious of anyone in commercials doing anything mundane and normal. Eating cereal, Waking up and drinking coffee. I wanted that and felt I would never have it. He would come home and find me right where he left me and lean down and kiss me again over the tears, still streaming. The next day would be the same, and the next. That couch became a prison, the same couch we had stayed up on talking until the wee hours during those long summer nights. The very same couch I paid cash for, brand new. It was the first new piece of nice furniture I had ever purchased, thus passing a milestone into adulthood. But that didn't matter anymore, there were no more warm breezes wafting in, no more parties and rock shows for me.
I told him one day that if it got to hospice, I didn't want hospice at home. I wanted to be in a hospital or facility because I didn't want him to have to live in the apartment that I died in, not for one day. I couldn't stand the thought of that.
His eyes were different, not as sparkly anymore. There was a heaviness and a burden he was shouldering, how could there not be? I think anyone who goes through this feels that, the charm and the lightheartedness changes into something much more dark for anyone in our position, but that being said, it doesn't make it any less heartbreaking to watch it change in the eyes of the person you love and know that it is because they are watching you change and suffer, and there's no fault, and no blame and nothing anyone can do about it. That may be the cruelest part of all.
Well I didn't die on that couch, or in hospice. I did get better. The surgeries stopped, I put weight back on and winter gave way to longer days and the sounds of spring, and I was excited. I was ready. I looked for that amazing woman from two years ago. I thought she would be right there waiting for me, but she just wasn't. So I tried: I put her clothes on, her makeup on, I went back to work at her job, I went to the rock shows and the bars she used to go to, hung out with her friends, but to no avail. I was an impostor now...stepping into a custom made suit that was made for someone else. No alterations could fix that. It's awkward and uncomfortable wearing someone else's suit like that, I'm not fooling anyone.
I am not her, I will never be her. She is gone, lost forever. That relationship is gone too, robbed of its youth and vitality. I am not who I was then, I am not who I was in treatment, I am something different. I feel sometimes as if I was unearthed from the grave but did not come back "right."
Do I know that these things are to be expected? Yes. Do I need people telling me "you may be different but you're so much stronger now, your relationship is so much stronger after that." No I do not. It is possible, it is still changing and growing, it is easy to think that we have been through the worst and come out all the better but it is also possible to keep chipping and hammering away at things until there is nothing left.
Whatever doesn't kill you does not necessarily make you stronger. "Out of the ashes, the phoenix will rise"
is from Greek myth
ology. While sayings and beliefs like this help some, they do not help me because I don't find them to be true. Whoever this new person becomes, she will not be like the one from years back. She will live with constant fear of the cancer coming back. She is a slave to her doctors appointments and blood work and scans. She has no evidence of disease but that does not mean that it's not in there, microscopic and slowly replicating again, ready to jump out and take everything away. I am broken, and in order to rebuild, and to heal, to find what next version of myself will be, I need to acknowledge what is lost that will never be found.
Have you ever felt the same along your journey with cancer? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Photo courtesy of author.