I think I'm ready to talk. Well, I'm always ready to talk - after all, I'm a woman. But I'm ready to tell my story only I don't really know how to get started. People think it's easy to tell your story. You live it every day so it should be first in your mind. Small things we forget in time but some things we remember with shocking clarity...almost too well. It's only now as I'm beginning to feel normal again that I can relax my mind and think back on all that has happened. I am now slightly embarrassed for the feelings I had or outbursts or fits of crying and complaining or sleepless nights spent in a pain med-induced stupor or the times I would just wait for someone to reach for a glass or pick up the tea pitcher or open a door because I couldn't. It's in my moments of lucidity that in the same moment I remember feeling hopeless and lost while also not understanding why I felt hopeless and lost. It's a magical thing the brain, and memories and feelings. As Obi Wan would say, "They do you justice but they can also be used to serve the Emperor." I look back at a text message sent to a friend in one of my hopeless moments and don't even understand why I sent it. I know I felt that way then but now cannot fathom why I should have felt that way.
This is what cancer does to a person. This is what body-altering surgery does to a mind. It doesn't just alter your physical appearance or health. It alters how you think, how you act, how you react, what is really important to you, and what you realize doesn't really matter at all. It makes you take stock of everything in your life. It's like those reality shows where the crew comes to make over your home but first they have to clean out everything inside. They throw stuff away you never thought you could live without, telling you that you don't need it. They sell some of your precious items and extra baggage to purchase a surprise for you at the end of the show. In the end you have a newly decorated home with few mementoes left of what your house once looked like. You see that papers from years gone by are no longer needed (you don't need all those lymph nodes). You notice that the boxes of pictures and old cards hidden under your bed have been reorganized to fit into the electronic age (the best in implant technology!). You realize your big comfy old chairs are gone and only functional furniture remains (size doesn't matter does it?).
You also realize that if they did a follow-up show on how you've kept to the design after time has passed that you would probably tell the camera you are still mourning the loss of some of your possessions. You feel an emptiness you can kind of live with but a sorrow and sometimes anger at the fact those things in your life that were so important are now gone and can never be recovered. And no matter how much better your life is now, it does not diminish that emptiness you feel. It doesn't matter that people say, "Look at the alternative." You know what the alternative was. You know what your other options were. But that does not mean you can accept everything about how you are now. For me, I am irrevocably different - physically, mentally and spiritually.
How? I am less tolerant. With a clean, organized home you can see everything that is out of place. A misplaced set of keys is highly noticeable. I am less likely to be tolerant if I see something that is out of place. Small things that used to get ignored are now blaringly evident and dealth with immediately. I am less tolerant of people pushing and bullying their way around. I've always been a live and let live kind of person, but that part of me is fading. I am more apt to speak my mind and not worry about what someone might think. Why not say what I feel? Who's rules am I having to live by? I feel I've deserved permanent citizenship in the nation of "Why Not?" And my feelings are stronger - a stronger bond with those I love; less tolerant if I have no real connection. I can't waste energy on people who don't energize me back. My emotions, usually in check, run hot when things go wrong. But I don't know how to handle it so I stick my head in the sand and pretend nothing happened - not a good reaction when something needs to be dealt with. I've also become homesick again - something that has not happened since I was 13. I don't feel comfortable being away from home. I think it's the "stick my head in the sand" reaction - I feel safe at home and fight with having to leave my house every day. But I think the biggest change is that it takes every part of my being to remain the strong, independent person I was before. I am more apt to want to cop to pain and have everything done for me which for me is completely intolerable behavior.
But this is what cancer does. This is what breast cancer did to me. This is who I am now. I am a survivor. I am forever changed.