The Weight of Surviving: Survivorship, Triggering TV Shows, and My Cancerversary
I’m shaking. Scrunched in the middle seat of a plane. Somewhere over Canada, I think. Happily watching From Scratch as I drink my Iceland glacier water and eat my German hot dog pastry. I love these new Netflix shows. Women of color falling in love with European men. A dream of mine, really. And so cheerful to watch—till his knee hurts, and I’m wondering what surgery he will need. Then wham bam it’s a rare aggressive cancer—he’s starting chemo this week. His brand-new restaurant dreams on hold. Pushing his young wife away as he goes through his first treatment alone. Accessing the port. I turned it off then. I couldn’t watch any longer. Five days until my own diagnosis day. Each year it seems weirder. One more year I’m alive, and one less than so many I know. I’ve had a lot of survivor’s guilt these last few days, remembering a dear mama of three who recently passed. Her youngest is the age I was when I was diagnosed, and now he doesn’t have his mom to see his high school graduation.
The guilt. The triggers. Eleven years. And it doesn’t get easier. And so sometimes you find yourself bawling between two strangers on an airplane, after a magical vacation trip. Every reckless decision I made, seemed in the moment the best thing I could do to celebrate my life.
I’m looking forward to returning to work. I miss my work tribe and the people who’ve embraced me like family. Maybe I’ll take a cake in to celebrate. And then I’ll sit silently in my house, pondering. Why I’m still here. The pain I deal with on the daily that’s currently shooting up my joints. The restrictive diet my diabetes makes me follow. The community I never asked for. Some days I just need a hug. And sometimes I wonder why I left it all behind in Cleveland.
One month later…
I made it through my cancerversary day, as painful as it was. I took a giant chocolate cake into work and received multiple hugs. I celebrated a dear friend’s birthday that evening, with other good friends. And then called a long-lost friend on the drive home, holding my breath that he would answer. Bless him for answering. His voice, as usual, calmed my heart. His words, as usual, directed me back to the rational. I still haven’t continued watching the show. I won’t find out the ending and if Lino survives.
I’m sitting in church now, surrounded by a family. Not my family, but people who love and care for me just the same. Younger Jen couldn’t have imagined her life today. In Boston for starters, but in this job, in this place, away from the life I once built. Rebuilding another. Alive and thriving. Struggling and in pain. Good days and bad. Tethered to an insulin pump. My body screaming in pain so many mornings. But I’m here.
Survivorship is hard. It’s a never-ending struggle, in a fight where everyone often deserts you. But you get no reprieve, there’s no time-outs, no “give me a breather.” It’s a relentless, never-ending, painful war.
Maybe, for one tiny moment, life is happy and full enough to block out the pain, both emotional and physical. For a few hours, the sunshine can chase away the gloominess of the weather and my soul. The cuddles of a newborn, the laughter of a friend in your kitchen, the midday hug from a coworker. A brief reprieve until the weight of surviving comes back to haunt me.