Optimistic AF

I’ve never been much of a Fuck Cancer type – but almost four years in, I can certainly say I understand the urge better now than I did when I was initially diagnosed.


For the most part, people have taken their cues from what I share here – sending more stars and hearts, and fewer f-bombs and proclamations about what a warrior I am. But with yesterday’s news, I have to admit that there were plenty of F-words echoing through my mind: frustration, failure, and yes FUCK it all just FUCK FUCK FUCK.


“Mommy! Language!” I can hear Delaney admonishing. Luckily, she is still safely ensconced at camp, where she will remain just long enough for me wrap my head around our news and try to get back to equilibrium.


My scanxiety wasn’t so bad this time around – it really surfaced only once, when I sat overtired and under-fed (but sufficiently rosé'd) at lunch with a direct report who likely knew what she was in for and a new colleague who definitely did not – both of whom handled it gracefully nonetheless.


My impromptu meltdown was enough for me to give strict instructions to some of my newer team members on how to engage me while I’m awaiting the results of my scans: I will think that I can contribute meaningfully while I am in New York in between appointments, but history has shown this is NOT TRUE. And you MUST NOT BELIEVE ME no matter what I say.


Ten minutes later, I heard myself asking to be added to a meeting smack dab in the midst of same period. Thankfully, they were quick studies and refused; and I promised to connect to get back in the loop as soon as I had my results.


Instead, I found myself texting that I needed one more day. I told myself that it really was not that much to ask for 24 hours to deal with something as scary as a cancer recurrence – and I must have actually believed it, because I pretty much ignored email and instead turned my energy toward wallowing and bitchiness, in a rapid-but-random rotation which was super fun for Per, who found himself on the receiving end of both.


He took it all in stride, and my crankiness continued in full swing until I overheard him explain our recent news to our financial planner, saying there was “one last friendly little guy” who remained on my liver.


This immediately prompted me to imagine a smiling little tumor engaged in a Midwest goodbye – yes, he’s overstayed his welcome and may be a little bit tipsy; but mostly he’s just enjoyed his visit so much that it’s escaped his attention that the party’s over, the other guests have all gone, and now it’s just his hosts who remain, still smiling but also desperately wishing they could get him out and at last go to bed.


I’m not sure we really need to cuss this poor misguided soul out – but perhaps we can call him an Uber and coax him toward the door – before my interventional radiologist sets him ablaze?


Years ago, when I was talking about an unpleasant situation I was in, my career coach asked me a question I’ve posed many times since: Is it a prison, or is it a school?


If it’s a prison, by all means get yourself out of there as fast as you can. But if it’s a school, you may as well accept that you’ll be there for a while and try to learn as much as you can.


And maybe that’s part of why I never sparked to the Fuck Cancer / Cancer Warrior thing – because it assumes cancer is a prison; and then, the only worthwhile question becomes whether or not you will escape, and how soon, as opposed to what you might learn.


I’ll be the first to admit that my initial reaction to the news of this little spot, friendly or not, was: Oh my god, seriously – haven’t I learned enough?? But I also know keenly how much more I learned with each recurrence, how glad I am now that my first NED did not stick – because even in the face of continued uncertainty, of this I am certain: my life today is happier than it was: fuller of love, freer of worry, and with a sense of purpose that seems to refine itself further and further with every passing week.


Still, school isn’t all fun and games, especially if you’re attending a university of hard knocks – there will be failed tests and mysterious grading curves and confusing teachers and times when you want to yell FUCK this and FUCK that and just FUCK IT ALL.


And yet.


If you’ve wound up at the right school, when it’s time to leave, chances are good you’ll look back at what you’ve learned and the friends you’ve made; you’ll understand yourself a little better – who you are, what you are meant to do with the rest of your life – and if you’re lucky, maybe even how and why.


Today’s lesson came from my therapist, who got to the heart of exactly why this spot made me feel so mad and frustrated: because it made me feel stupid for my optimism – like a fool who is engaging in the ultimate case of confirmation bias, steadfastly ignoring any data that would suggest my initial belief in myself was misguided, a severe case of the Pollyannas, denying the severity of my prognosis.


“That’s not foolishness: it’s will. It’s at the very core of who you are – and it’s served you well thus far.”


And with that, I’m buckling myself in for what I hope will be one last semester.


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