Grief comes in waves.
Losing someone close is not a clean-cut mourning process with a timeline. Anniversaries, songs, places, even smells, can trigger random memories that spur waves of sentiment months and even years after the original goodbye. There is the initial tsunami-sized emotional destruction and then continual reminders of the loss that ebb and flow as the tides.
Occasionally these emotional aftershocks are even more severe and more poignant than the initial grief.
And I got smacked by a rouge wave a few weeks ago.
Cancer = Grief Even When you Survive
A cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery resembles that very same cycle of grief. We’ve all lost something: a body part, a physical functionality, an innocent ignorance (or an ignorant innocence!). In my case, the grief surrounding the loss of my breasts pales in comparison to the grief involved in the loss of the it-can’t-happen-to-me-ignorant-peace-of-mind that accompanies youth and a lifetime of good living, good health and good luck.
Where’s the Damn Finish Line?
Ten days after surgery number four, following yet another recovery plan to the letter and eagerly anticipating the celebration of another birthday, I was physically coming right along but emotionally knocked flat on my arse.
Perhaps I set myself up for it. I expected this final surgery to be a breeze, I looked forward to being ‘done’ with cancer and all its trimmings.
Logically I know this doesn’t happen. I’ve written those very words before. You don’t package diagnosis and treatment into a nice little box and label it Cancer Memories. The process is permanently altering in many ways.
Yet my thoughts were still trending toward, “Once the exchange surgery happens, I can get back to normal.” Yep, I said the word “normal” to myself.
This last surgery was reactionary to remove my leaky expander and while definitely desired, it was comparatively unplanned. My recovery plan was hastily put together and resembled my January plan in many ways. I felt as if I already had this t-shirt and was not really in need of another.
Hindsight has such clarity. I realize now that four surgeries in 10 months is a helluva lot for any single body to handle. Physically and emotionally. I lost things tangible and intangible. But I needed to be reminded that everything I lost was real and it’s okay to grieve. I also believe I forgot that a recovery in the middle of a recovery may be physically similar but emotionally more complicated.
Birthdays: A Celebration or a Lead Up?
And then there was the issue of my birthday. My 41st birthday.
Part of me, a large part, was just glad to have made it to another birthday. I am attuned to the fact those are not always givens and, in the past year, have lost several people who will never reach their 41st birthday thanks to metastatic cancer. But another part of me, a smaller but very real part, didn’t want to upset the proverbial apple cart with too much pomp and circumstance.
You could call me superstitious and you’d probably be correct, but the anxiety surrounding a repeat of last year’s month long birthday celebration that was capped off with a cancer diagnosis was not something I was looking forward to.
And the Tide Flows Out Again
In the thirty-seven days since my last surgery, I have laughed and cried. I have berated myself for ‘going backwards’ and also celebrated my successes.
In other words, I have lived every moment of what I felt.
I feel centered now. I feel strong today. And while I not-so-secretly feel as if this ‘journey’ should be over, I realize that two steps forward may occasionally be accompanied by a single step back.
And, by anyone’s measure, this is still progress.