Never one to resist a challenge, I happily undertook Jelebelle’s blog prompt this week, which was inspired by Renn’s blog prompt last week. Jelebelle took Renn’s idea and ran with it, challenging us to “post a photo or self portrait or other form of visual art … of yourself that describes who you have been within the last six months.”
I’m especially intrigued by the “who you have been within the last six months” part. Some days I feel a little Sybil-ish, with many different versions of me. There’s the warrior girl who pummeled breast cancer, the tough-lovin’-but soft-on-the-inside mama, the relentless chaser of the next level of strength in the gym, the hard-core-run-down-every-single-ball tennis chick, the at-home mom who respects the commitment to domesticity while being bored silly by it, the bookworm who can’t dive into the latest good read until the kitchen is spotless, the voracious detail-seeker who wants to know it all yet remembers precious little.
And that’s just what comes to mind at first blush.
I spent several days pondering this idea of who I have been in the last half-year. I’d think about it while at the gym, while watering my newly planted flowers, while making yet another sack lunch for my little darlings, while driving across our sleepy suburb mid-day with the top down and the wind whipping my hair into a frenzied mess. My inner warrior wanted the answer to Jelebelle’s question to be “I’m a badass slayer of cancer and bad grammar.” The softer side of me, which I usually try to tamp down at all costs, wanted the answer to be “I’m kind and patient and willing to see the good in everyone, no matter how moronic or mean-spirited they really are.” The chaser girl wanted the answer to be “I’m a beast in the gym who can’t get enough reps and I pity the fool who gets in my way.” The tennis chick wanted the answer to be “I’m a steady player who will wear you down in a war of attrition.” The at-home mom wanted the answer to be “I’ll have to answer that question after I fold 10 loads of laundry, put a delicious & nutritious meal on the table while a homemade cake fills the kitchen with the heavenly aroma of fresh-baked love, tend to the animals, dust the ceiling fan blades, and oversee the winning science fair project.” The bookworm wanted the answer to be, “Can’t talk, reading.” And the detail-seeker wanted the answer to be widely researched, fact-checked, and methodically presented.
Rather a tall order, right?
So in the end, after much soul-searching and reviewing of the events of the last six months, my answer to Jelebelle’s question of who I have been is this:
I’ve been a happy girl who is learning to love this post-cancer life. Becoming a happy girl post-cancer has been a long time coming. Like every diagnosis, mine was hard to hear and even harder to absorb. Being handed a deadly disease at age 40 is cruel, but being mangled and diminished by the disease is even worse. Once through the hard part (whichever part that is), the kernel of fear remains firmly implanted in one’s brain, and the realization that cancer may be gone but can never be forgotten is a heavy reality. It can be hard to be happy after all the damage that cancer inflicts.
While mine may seem a simple answer to a complex question, the simplicity of being a happy girl is actually rather complicated. There’s the strange dichotomy between being pissed off at the universe for randomly choosing me to be the one in eight women diagnosed with breast cancer, and being immensely grateful that my cancer wasn’t as awful as it could have been. There’s a continental divide between having breast cancer ruin my life and having it push me to become stronger… better…more grateful. I’m alternately wrecked by what cancer has done to my body and my psyche and determined to ensure it will not defeat me.
My cancer “journey” has not exactly been a sensible trip from point A to point B; I rather took the scenic route. Dear Dr Dempsey, breast surgeon extraordinaire, inducted me into her “One-Percent Club,” which describes my “journey” so well: of all the women diagnosed with breast cancer in her practice, there is one percent for whom anything that can go wrong will go wrong. The select few in this club will encounter worst-case scenarios that will blow the roof off of the established medical protocol. We are the women she and her colleagues discuss in tones of “WTH???” and the women whose stories she tells to her other patients in order to reassure them that their situation really isn’t so bad. It’s a privilege and an honor to be part of the One-Percenter (yuk, yuk!). We’re committed to serving as a cautionary tale to others whose only fault in life was to be born a woman with a pair of breasts. We are a group that is small but mighty, and we are endlessly stubborn in the face of this wretched disease and its many-tentacled complications. We’ve learned the hard way that our bout with cancer may be done but it’s never over. And this One-Percenter has spent the last six months becoming happy.