I don’t recall exactly when I first heard your name, but I remember when I first listened to you speak. It was a low murmur, a chilling reminder that even the loved and the loving aren’t spared. The older neighbor lady who loved her grandbabies more than life itself abruptly stopped coming by. Then you got a bit louder and declared that the youthful aren’t safe either. I brought the young mother across the street jar after jar of carrot juice — both of us naively and foolishly hoping it would keep her alive long enough to see her little ones grow up.
It was baby Cadence, though, that transformed you from a voice in my head to a shock wave in my soul. As I watched the devastation of her young parents as you snuffed out the life of their first and only child, you finally had broken me.
You must understand, then, why I had to distance myself from you. Like a jilted ex-lover, I averted your gaze and took any and every measure to ensure that you would leave me and my family alone. For years, I gathered an army of alternative doctors, books, and bottles to keep you at bay. If only I had known that, with my focus so intently upon avoiding you, I was inadvertently aiming for you all along. I lived in such fear of you that I created the opening which you would ultimately burst through.
And burst through you did. You came in with a bang that day I lie screaming on the floor after breaking the hip you had been snacking on for years. And I fell hard at your mercy, cowering once again with fear at your threat of disability and death and recoiling from your pain. I was sure you were here to kill me quickly, painfully, and savagely. Like an intruder with a knife to my throat, you demanded I pay attention and do what you said. You showed no mercy and quickly let me know that my pleas were futile.
How did you feel watching this self-reliant overachiever join the ranks of the dependent and disabled? Were you amused, seeing me flounder in the ocean of relentless uncertainty after having so cautiously built a life on such a rock-solid foundation of security and safety? Like a good hostage, I never attempted an escape. I listened to you and also to the doctors who plotted to kill you. We both knew it was all part of your plan.
You must have sensed that I wasn’t going to cause trouble, because I gradually began to feel you loosen your grip. And as I regained my strength, I began to wriggle free of the shackles of shock and terror and grab onto the hope and acceptance offered by the outstretched hands of your other prisoners. We discovered solidarity and authenticity and oneness amidst our common sorrow and suffering. We shared our stories, our lives, our pain, and our fears. And we became refugees, seeking freedom from your torment and solace in our togetherness. We formed a coalition of sorts, arming ourselves with the hope that we would survive, faith in a power far beyond ourselves, and gratitude for living at all. I finally began to see that life was more about relationships than solitude and more about love than fear.
And as I looked at you through that lens of love, I discovered that you, my captor, were also my liberator who would ultimately help set me free. You turned the lock, but you also handed me the key. Be blessed or be broken. Either way, you weren’t going anywhere, Wherever I go, there you would be. So, what would be my answer? Broken or blessed? Don’t take too long. The clock is ticking.
That damn ticking clock. It wakes me up in the middle of the night and creeps into my dreams. It reminds me that your remission is temporary and paralyzes decisions that were once based on logic and a false but comforting sense of statistical normalcy. Tell me, how do I proceed realistically but courageously on this new, truncated side of normal?
With a growing sense of urgency, I want to explore the freedom you’re offering. As you’ve increased my need for safety and protection, you’ve elevated my desire to live fearlessly as well. Tick tock. It’s now or never, girl. Go for what you want. Don’t settle. Laugh. Try something new. Forgive yourself. Love yourself. Figure out who you really are.
You’ve given me the ticket to travel but a body that isn’t always up for the trip. Many days I struggle to feel the freedom under the heavy chains of fatigue and pain, not to mention the anxiety and desperation that are capable of paralyzing even the most enthusiastic traveler with the best laid-out plans.
And how am I supposed to enjoy the scenery when so many have had to stay behind? What about my dad and all my new friends? What about Cadence, who would have turned fourteen today? Your gifts to me are my own, but their suffering has also become mine.
Such the paradox, dear cancer. You destroy and you heal. You take lives, and you save them. You are fear, and you are love. You are death. You are life. You bring joy and so incredibly much pain.
I have fixed my fractured femur and chosen to mend my broken heart. I’ve lived in the world of the dying and broken long before you, but it’s a world where I no longer belong. I still remember the place of terror but hang on tightly to the key. I will offer it to the others, whose hands now reach out for me.
All of the posts written for Elephants and Tea are contributed by patients, survivors, caregivers and loved ones dealing with cancer. If you have a story or experience you would like to share with the cancer community we would love to hear from you! Please submit your idea at https://elephantsandtea.cdn-pi.com/contact/submissions/.