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.
(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!
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.
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.
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!