I got my quesadilla today. But it came at a cost.
I figured I would be fine to walk 0.2 miles to lunch. That’s only a few blocks, and we walked slowly. But between that, and a quick series of totally innocuous questions upon arrival that sent me into panic as I tried to catch my breath to answer, I totally melted down in the middle of the taqueria, and continued to cry all the way through lunch.
I totally unloaded on Per. He was shocked by my misery, especially after a pleasant morning together. “I wish you would have told me how you were feeling.” he said in semi-desperation, clearly trying to rewind the clock in his head to figure out how things had turned so quickly, and what he could have done to prevent it.
As shocked as he was, nobody was more shocked than me. I clearly had no idea how I was feeling emotionally until the scratch from my physical limitations split me wide open.
Add to that the fact that I spent much of the last few days reading Julie Yip-Williams blog—a recount of a stage 4 journey so powerful of a woman so bad-ass that they published it as a memoir following her death.
Both of these are solid and stern reminders that no matter how well things go physically, no matter how optimistic you may feel about no complications or feeling better than last time, this is hard.
Like, really, really hard.
For so long, we focused on getting to a liver resection as our ultimate goal. How many times has Per written about the oncologists who wouldn’t even talk about the possibility and how thrilled we were to be on the cusp of the only avenue to a cure? There are plenty of people who would kill to be in my position, frankly. A successful resection is a requirement to be cured of colon cancer—and therefore critically important—but it’s not the cure itself. Most people who get to the point I have after a stage 4 diagnosis, still don’t make it.
I thought I would be much more relieved to be through this stage in the process. In truth, it’s still really fucking scary.
Maybe moreso because the objective is to get through mop-up chemo—and then get through five years of clean scans.
With the pump, I think I’ve taken a huge stride towards stacking the deck in my favor; and there will be more to come after I wrap up chemo. I still feel optimistic.
But it’s still hard to face the reality of the stats and wonder, “Am I being naive?” What’s the fine line between that and optimism?
Here’s what’s helping these days: I appreciate every single time you text back, even if it’s just to gossip or joke; it may be that I need a connection in that moment, to a degree that even I didn’t realize. When I toss and turn at night, it’s been a great comfort to know I can roll over and find a new message at almost every hour of the night. I’ve totally come to realize that being able to say this stuff aloud (or ok, write it if you want to get technical) makes it inherently way less scary somehow.
And finally, I want you to know that what I enjoy most of all on Facebook is watching all of you living your lives—truly living—making memories in the moment with the people you love, whether that’s picking apples or going to Paris or having pajama day by the fireplace.
My heart cracks open when a friend, a colleague, or another patient says, “You inspired me to book that trip.” Please let me know if that’s been true for you! (And if it’s hasn’t, maybe this post is a sign that it’s time to book that trip!)
In the meantime, I’m going to try to stay focused on living a purposeful life. I’ve been meaning to plan a little cancer vacation; maybe a long weekend is in order before chemo starts again. I’ll try to be gentle with myself—gentle as I physically heal, but also gentle as I grieve a bit that this successful surgery didn’t pack the big emotional punch I had expected.
And I’ll ask for help when I need it. Today’s lunch ended with me apologizing to our sweet server (who turned out to be the cashier’s mom), and then asking for a hug, which she gladly provided. Turns out what I needed in that moment was my Mommy. I’m glad I was brave enough to ask for what I needed—and lucky enough to have found an accidental advocate who was happy to oblige.