As my year of cancer has come to an “end” I find myself in a state of limbo. Getting my life back to “normal” has been fairly easy but just when I forget about all the hospital visits, my scars, my life without hair, I catch myself and feel the need to remind myself..”you’re not normal, you had cancer”! I find myself working more and getting excited to take on more in my life but then I’m crippled with the sense of fear…what if I’m pushing myself too hard too soon and what if I get sick again?
As I was chatting with one of my best friends about this feeling over text, she was compelled to write. Then this email popped into my inbox. And that was the moment that my friend put my year, my feelings, my experiences and the things that were already fading from memory into words. BEAUTIFUL AND POWERFUL WORDS….
I think the day I found out Dory might have cancer was the most scared I’d ever been. I’d felt the pain and dread of losing someone before, but this was somehow different. This would be more awful and even less fair than anything I’d seen before.
I remember jumping ahead to all the worst case scenarios. I remember the anger… the sheer bitter anger that the world was dealing her this hand.
The next thing I remember is sitting on her couch, with hand written notes, trying to be an active supporter as she made decisions that could and would affect the rest of her life. In what order does she have her breasts removed, or be pumped full of poison for months? Does she have one breast removed or both? Does she have her goddamn eggs fertilized in the hopes that she can still have kids even though her and her boyfriend had just recently moved in together?
Then there were the unknowns – What would this do to her financially? Would this affect her career? Would there be terrible lasting side effects of treatment?
Somehow the past year flashed by as though it was a dream… except it wasn’t. She had to be brave, she had to be sick, she had to be in pain. And it was messed up and awful. And there were also moments of laughter because she is hilarious and has a twisted sense of humour. There were tender moments like carefully washing her hair. And beauty in the way her boyfriend looked at her differently, like she was the most magnificent thing he’d ever seen… not in spite of how she looked but because of it – it represented her strength.
There were the doctor’s appointments which were scary and overwhelming and annoying and unfair. There was the surgery… that was a terrible day… except that when she got out, she was the same funny, sarcastic, social person she’d always been… but somehow more resilient now. There was chemo, which she endured like a fucking champion. There was pain and discomfort. But there was also curiosity and determination to give her body the best fighting chance she possibly could. Then there was the hair loss and the bone aches and the exhaustion. But there was still her. She never left – she only became more of what she already was.
But, there were also the wine nights, the birthdays and the dancing and the love and the laughter and the regular stuff that went on because she wasn’t about to crumble and she wasn’t about to let cancer take over who she was or how she was going to live her life.
And now she’s “through it”. Treatment is done and she’s supposed to return to her normal life. What the fuck is normal anyway? She’s going to move on with this deep knowledge that life is short and it’s fragile and it can get turned upside down and sideways at any given moment. And that’s completely terrifying. But she also learned how fiercely people love her. She learned the strength of her own being. She learned that she and the rest of us have been wasting time caring about extraneous stuff that does not matter.
So, that’s it I guess. And she’s changed forever. And in some ways she’s just more of herself. I learned that I love that girl more than life itself… and I am grateful as hell that she is one of the lucky ones.
-Susie Ward (Dory’s friend)