“for whatever we lose (like a you or a me),
it’s always our self we find in the sea.” — ee cummings
I love ee cummings. While I’m usually quite the stickler for adherence to the rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation, I’ve always loved that cummings eschewed the rules and let the words and his thoughts flow unbridled.
He’s quite right about finding our selves at the sea. Not finding ourselves, but our selves. See the difference? Actually, it’s quite hard to see; it’s more something you feel.
Losing your self in the morass that is a cancer battle is fraught with peril. Having a potentially fatal disease changes you. It messes with your mind, shakes your sense of security, and makes you question the future. Having a potentially fatal disease at a young-ish age with young kids to raise really changes you.
My blogfriend and fellow cancerchick Michelle writes about this change. She writes of fear, of wishing for a return to the carefree, pre-cancer life. She mentions fear. The fear of recurrence. The fear of not being here to witness the millions of little things, seemingly insignificant, yet the essence of what creates our life.
See, for a cancer patient, the fear is always there. It resides deep in the “self” that we wish to find in the sea. Despite best efforts to be brave, move forward, and face the unpleasantness that is life with cancer, the fear is there. Sometimes just below the surface, like a homemade marinara sauce bubbling fragrantly and yummy on the stove. Sometimes right on the surface, as evident and painful as a sunburn the first day on the beach. Fear becomes the new normal. Michelle writes of the “new” normal:
“My new normal, I suppose [is] living each moment with equal parts gratitude, for experiencing it and really soaking it in now, and fear, that it may be over too soon.”
Hear, hear. Well said, Michelle.
Another blogfriend, Lauren, writes similarly. Because she is 5 years out from diagnosis while Michelle and I are more recent arrivals to cancerland, Lauren writes not of the ever-present fear but of the urgency to experience all the things we fear we might not be here to experience. The bucket list takes on a whole new priority post-cancer.
“It dawned on me that cancer survivors also have a different bucket list. One that isn’t the places we want to go, or what we want to buy or learn to do, but one comprised of the things we want to live long enough to experience and see come to pass.”
Yes, that’s true. While there are places I want to see and plenty of things I want to do, I know now, post-cancer, that there’s a difference. Everything is different post-cancer. I’m still looking for that new normal, and my bucket list changes somewhat, but one thing remains constant: while I’m still scared, there’s still plenty that I want to see come to pass.
Last summer was pretty bad for me and my family. It started innocently enough, with a bilateral mastectomy at age 40 on May 13th, and while I healed quickly and nicely from that, it all went downhill fast.
Just after my 41st birthday, I got a nasty post-surgery infection. No one saw it coming, and to say it took us all by surprise would be a gross understatement. The odds of contracting a nosocomial infection are not small, but my infection is somewhat rare, quite wily, and super slow to treat. In the scope of inconvenient infections, I won the lottery.
Last night was the first game of the All Star tournament for Payton’s team–something I missed entirely last summer. Being present last night to watch my boy do what he does best with his team of like-minded and uber-talented buddies was one of the simplest yet deepest thrills of all time. We take a lot of things for granted in this life of ours, and being able to sit on metal bleachers in the Texas heat in June to watch youth baseball is one of those things. I’ve sat through thousands of games for my little ball player, and hardly thought twice about it beyond the random, mundane thoughts associated with this endeavor: who are we “versing” (as our catcher, #10 Carl says)? Where is Payton in the line-up? Are we on the shady side of the field? Did I remember my stadium seat? How many times will Macy hit the concession stand? How many pieces of bubble gum does Pay have in his mouth at once?
Those are the thoughts that traverse my brain during a game, along with the usual baseball stuff: What’s the run rule in this tournament?; How did we fare against this team last time we met? If the ball hits the bat then hits the batter, he’s out, right? Rules and regulations course through my head as I follow the many games my boy has played.
Last night was different, though. As I was ready to walk out the door, our bestie Ed reminded me that I’ve come a long way since this time last year. Several of the parents on our team remarked at the park that it’s nice to have me there this year. A couple of the coaches said something about having missed me and my big mouth last summer; once a cheerleader, always a cheerleader.
I have come a long way since last summer, and watching my kid play ball is something to be savored, something to most definitely not take for granted. The metal bleachers, the roar of the crowd, the (gross) smell of hot dogs, the infield dirt blowing in my eyes…every bit of it is special to me on a whole ‘nother level.
Last night also marked the first time a newspaper reporter has covered the game, and seeing my boy’s name in print in association with his rock-star team’s blowout and his personal success is something I’ll be savoring for a while. Before cancer came into my life, I would have enjoyed reading the article, and likely would have forwarded it to our nearest & dearest, but this time, I’m carrying the feeling of that article along with me, inside my heart, in that little space where the gratitude lies.
I was flipping through my old Caring Bridge blog, and happened upon this entry, which seems even more prescient a year later. I wrote this on the morning of my mastectomy, before leaving for the hospital. No doubt I was antsy, preoccupied, and ready to get the show on the road that morning. It seems appropriate to reprint it today, in light of the theme of today’s blog.
I realize that when cancer comes into one’s life it disrupts everything and changes “the normal” forever. Dr Dempsey, my superstar breast surgeon, told me you no longer schedule cancer around your life, you schedule your life around your cancer. Life takes a backseat to war.
With cancer, I join a club that I never signed up for and for which I never wanted to become a member.
No matter, I now have a new normal. The new normal is all about taking care of what’s most important. We hear this all the time, but when you really put it into play in your own life, you know exactly what it means. For me, it means facing this beast head on and telling the bastard repeatedly that it doesn’t stand a chance. It means never once, not even once, considering that this cancer will win. It’s not even in the game.
It also means all the pithy stuff you hear about, like savor every day, make the most our of whatever you’ve got. That’s also true. For me it means truly embracing and enjoying my kids and my family, and letting my friends into my life — warts & all — on a whole new level. Y’all may well see my house a mess, which doesn’t happen much. You may see me in a grumpy mood (ok, you’ve seen that, esp on the tennis court!). You may see me just a teensy bit vulnerable, but only for a short time so don’t expect a repeat performance. No matter what, there is a new normal, and I’m all over it.