On March 8, 2017, I heard those fateful words “You have breast cancer.” It has now been two whole years since that day and everything is so very different now.
But how to talk about that?
Am I a happier person? Nope
Am I angry? Yep
Am I depressed/anxious? Yep
Do I think about death more often? Yep
Do I tolerate BS? Nope, but then I never really did before. I AM more vocal about things I perceive as wrong.
What I am is more centered, less stressed, and more present. I don’t see breast cancer, specifically a terminal diagnosis, as a gift or a blessing or something good, but I do see the “magic” (as my friend Emily Garnett says) in what has come out of the experience. I’ve met some pretty amazing people that I likely would never have met.
Yet, I am also presented much more often with the death of those friends. Many of the women who have touched my life, I’ve never met in real life. It’s an odd shift, to be invested in relationships that occur primarily virtually. Yet, the grief when we lose one of those women is real and it is intense. The raw, deep and intense rage I feel at organizations that take money and yet don’t truly fund the cure we desperately need has been growing over time.
I helped to organize several Secret Santa exchanges over the holidays for groups that I’m involved with. I love Christmas and I love exchanging gifts. When I got messages from family members that one of the participants in the gift exchanged had died and that person who was actively dying had been concerned about her Secret Santa recipient not receiving a gift, my heart broke a little more.
In one of the support groups I’m in, I participated in (and recruited my whole family) to participate in making Christmas magic for little kiddos who had lost their mom this year. I talked to my kids about this, how important it is to care about other little boys and girls who don’t have a mommy or maybe a daddy to help them celebrate or buy gifts as my heart broke for them celebrating Christmas without me.
Sometimes I think staying away from death and illness and progressions and cancer might be good for me. At the same time, I keep coming back to these women and these groups because the people are, on the whole, authentic.
Authentic in their pain and genuine in their celebrations.
I read a “parenting book” recently that suggested that we should not wish for our children to be happy but to wish for our children to be authentic. Authenticity is truly rare nowadays.
So, on this 2nd cancerversary, I will celebrate authenticity and genuineness and I will be vulnerable and put my heart “out there” because there is joy and love and beauty in seeing others, in experiencing life with like-minded people. I’ve met some amazing people and I celebrate those friendships and the magic we are creating together.
I like to say that while I treasure the friendships that have survived my transition from “normal” to terminal illness, that it took cancer to find my people. I’ve found a group of people, that include some before cancer friends and lots of after cancer friends that lift me up and answer my middle of the night texts and are raw and honest and live life each day like we’re dying, because we are. That’s something to celebrate.