Turn It Around
A Cheery Bit

Seeing With New Eyes

Today - February 4 - is a very special anniversary for me. On February 4, 2009 - 12 years ago! - I walked out of my final chemo treatment. I was weak. Exhausted. Bald. I was happy. Thrilled, actually. But also completely unmoored and really freaked out. All of the people in my life were ready to celebrate and move on. I was done. I finished! I had "beaten cancer."

But that's really not quite how it feels.

IMG_2408

(The "selfie project" continues. Me, now.) (My eyebrows never did really grow back right.)

Sure. I wanted to celebrate not having to go through another chemo treatment. But . . . while I was having chemo, I was actively Doing Something to combat my lymphoma. Medical people were constantly checking my blood and scanning my body and examining me. After chemo? That checking-in process would slow way down. I was untethered. On my own. In remission . . . but so unstable. It's a weird place to be. I asked my oncologist, "So now what do I do?" Her answer? "You go live your life!"

But . . . what life?

Because my old, before-cancer life was gone. I mean, I still had my family and my home and my responsibilities. But in the space of my 4-month treatment (and the long, 7-month trek to getting a diagnosis in the first place), EVERYTHING had actually changed for me. I just wasn't the same person anymore.

Not even close!

IMG_2506

Within days of that last chemo session, I got my hands on a great book - Picking Up the Pieces: Moving Forward After Surviving Cancer. It was just what I needed at the time. The book is designed to help cancer survivors make sense of/understand the complexities of life after treatment, after cancer. It helps readers use their cancer and treatment experiences as catalysts for personal transition and growth.

"Many people with cancer come to divide their lives in half: before and after. You are never the same again."
   --- quote from Sandra, a cancer survivor highlighted in  Picking Up the Pieces

Those months immediately following the end of my chemo treatment were . . . ground-shifting. I needed to find myself again. I needed to figure out who I was now that that I'd come out the other side of a cancer diagnosis (especially . . . not knowing at the time how things would unfold for me, going forward). I needed to become my new, post-cancer self. Who would I be? How would I live? What would my "new normal" look like?

It was a process. I AM different. It's hard to see it so much anymore . . . because it's been nearly 13 years since I first noticed something was "wrong," and now the "new me" is just "me." But I'm definitely different! I see life differently. I've got a completely different set of friends. I think about life - and death - differently. I take bigger risks. I'm more open. I share my life differently. 

Basically . . . I see with new eyes.
Completely different eyes.

IMG_2508

Ever since the earliest days of the pandemic, I've felt that there are parallels between the life-after-chemo and life-after-Covid realms. Of course, it's different . . . because, first, it's a communal experience with Covid - we're ALL going through it. And most of us are not living through Covid as a brush-with-death kind of experience (although far too many of us ARE), but all of us are dividing our lives into the Before Times and the Now Times (just like the quote I shared above). And we will never be quite the same again. The past year has been ground-shifting for all of us. Our "normal" lives have disappeared. We will not be the same people on the other side of this experience -- and most of us are seeing everything with new eyes.

At the end of the year, when I was sharing my year-in-review, I talked about the "silver linings" of a year lived in isolation. A lot of you shared your own silver linings, and your hopes that we might be able to incorporate some of the positive things we've learned and experienced into our post-pandemic lives.

Me, too.

This week, I pulled Picking Up the Pieces down from my bookshelf again. And I dug out my journal from 2009, too (the photos in this post are of my journal pages in the weeks immediately following my final chemo treatment). I'm going to take a look at the steps I went through, post-chemo, to carve out a "new normal" for myself; to review just how I came to discover my SELF again after that experience. I'm thinking . . . there are lessons there to be learned and applied to the post-pandemic world I'll be (we'll all be) navigating.

"We can choose to be bitter, angry, and depressed; indeed, many people do, without even realizing it. Or we can learn strategies that will develop our stamina, give us a robust attitude towards change, and teach us the flexibility that is necessary for swimming with the ebb and flow of life's currents."
 --- from Picking Up the Pieces: Moving Forward After Surviving Cancer

Back in February 2009, I committed to living with . . . stamina, flexibility, and a robust attitude.
I want to do that again, here in 2021!

I'm planning to share some of my thoughts and "process" here on the blog once in a while. I thought maybe you might be interested, too . . . as we all pick up the pieces and put them back together in a new way in a post-pandemic world.

It's time for seeing with new eyes!

 

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Julainn

Thank you for this beautiful post Kym. As always, I appreciate the opportunity to see into your thinking.

Carolyn

Kym, thank you. You’ve referenced, in the past, this framework (?) for living, and reading more of your story here—your journey to the next You—I don’t really know how to say it...but I’m grateful you’re telling it, sharing your perspective and wisdom in the way that you do. My dad was resuscitated after a widow-maker’s heart attack four years ago this month, and each year since has felt like a birthday, of sorts, for the ‘after 2/26/17’ version of him. However YOU look at marking this day—here’s to celebrating your life. And thank you for sharing some of the process here! Love, Carolyn

Bonny

Each of us has to find our way after any big, life-altering event, and I think after-covid will have many similarities with post-cancer. Things will be different, we'll still have to check our health periodically, and we won't view things with the same eyes. I'm not quite ready to look forward to a post-pandemic life as I'm nowhere near that yet, but do look forward to your thoughts and process as I hope to live in a post-pandemic world.

Carole

Well first of all - happy 12 years of being done with chemo! I'm so grateful for the science that saved you, my friend. And second of all, thank you for sharing your before and after perspective. I can absolutely see how it can be translated into helping us figure out how we move forward with our lives, incorporating some of the good lessons we learned from the pandemic into the After Time. Love you.

Dee

Congrats on the 12 year post cancer mark.

A very insightful post. I think we pretty much all have figured that post-COVID will not ever be like PRE. The hard part is figuring out how to make the best life from what remains. We don't know what that will be or WHEN it will be. That is the hardest part for me ............the unknown factors.

Vicki

Twelve years!! I am looking forward to After Time and finding a New Normal... right now it's just frustrating. Looking forward to your posts.

Sarah

Congratulations on reaching this milestone! And thank you so much for sharing your thoughts from then and now with us. I can imagine how hard it must have been to go from a place where you're constantly being monitored and tested to almost nothing and how it must've been both freeing and nerve wracking. I've wondered a lot about how this pandemic will change us. Will we always wear masks now during cold and flu season because we've learned that they can stop or at least slow transmission? Will we keep our newfound respect for frontline workers? Will we remember how this virus took people of all ages from us? I don't think we'll ever go back to the way things were, and I'm equally certain that I have no idea just how they will be.

Patty

Yay for 12! And thank-you for your perspective and always, always giving us something to ponder. We were just remarking about how there are no colds, or flus, no stomach bugs all because we're wearing masks. Though I don't want to wear one forever...it's one powerful force!

Sybil

Congratulations, on twelve years being cancer free. I enjoy your blog, you generate such positive energy.

Vera

Happy post-chemo anniversary Kym. So much of your post reminds me of my best friend. She overcame lung cancer and then had to overcome breast cancer (twice!). But, thankfully, she is a fighter and she has survived. Some of us going thru it with her also had our attitudes and perspectives changed...new eyes so to speak. I am so happy you are here and blogging.

Kim

Happy anniversary and thank you for another inspiring post.

Chloe

This was a very thought-provoking post. I may carry it around with me for the rest of the day in some way, I have a feeling, particularly the cancer part. I do hope we will all be able to ultimately feel gratitude that we have (most of us) survived this experience. And that we come away humbled by it. (Here we are one of the great nations of the world with every modern medical miracle at our collective disposal and yet we were taken down by what has been described as a rather innocuous bug). Thank you for this, Kym.

Kat

Your words shed new light into being a survivor... and thinking about myself as a survivor of sorts seems not right. Yes, we are surviving COVID (and I know people who died from COVID) I was looking at it from the "outside" looking "inside" not understanding that I am "inside" with everyone else. It is a bit shattering to alter my view like this. I have been of the mindset that we are "settling into a new normal" but perhaps that is not right. Thank you for sharing your profound and moving thoughts. And thank you for expanding my thinking... which you do so beautifully so often! XO

Geri

Thank you for sharing your post cancer reflections and journey. I do see parallels between this pandemic and coming off of a traumatic health issue like cancer. These times have shaken our world and made us look closely at how complacent we’ve become. The pandemic has also shown that there are some of us unwilling to sacrifice for the good of our society. For me that has been the most jarring revelation. Covid hit at the same time that I finished my cancer treatment. There are days when I feel that being on high alert for 16 months is just too much.. Then I take stock of the strength in my body and in my mind to battle and survive. I’ve learned a lot from having cancer and will learn a lot from this pandemic. Congratulations on 12 years cancer free!

Eileen

Congrats on this amazing hard won anniversary of beating cancer! Wow, that is a huge life altering experience and your ability to share your thoughts is noted and very appreciated.

Debbie

Happy Anniversary, Kym! Thank you for sharing, it gives me a lot to think about for when we reach the other side of COVID. My hope is that we will all be kinder and more focused on things that are truly important in life. Again, I'm so glad you have been 12 years cancer free!

Mary

happy sigh. and a big virtual hug for this happy anniversary! I really want to dig into the resources you've shared. thank you!

The comments to this entry are closed.