Lucky 7

There comes a point when the well runs dry. Or maybe when you realize that you’ve had more than your fair share of water and you’d better get the hell out of the way and let someone else have a drink.

During my year of cancer treatment, I had more support than a person ever had a right to expect. Meals (with brownies) from near-strangers, people taking my kids to movies, a husband who really stepped up to do it all, and people at my beck and call to help chase away the monsters, a team of fabulous doctors delivering the latest treatments, little kids motivating me to keep my head up and power through.

But a funny thing happens after your hair grows back. All of that stops. And yes, I mean all of it.

Who can blame them? It wouldn’t be healthy for any of us to keep that sort of unequal relationship going. But, as I’ve learned, once your brain stops busying itself with the day in and day outs of appointments and fevers and sore throats and bandages and blisters, it has time to wander to some of the ugliest places.

It’s kind of like when a person dies. In the immediate days following, there is so much to keep you busy – plans and arrangements and parties. Then everyone goes away and you’re left with ghosts and empty rooms. And you have to figure out how to live.

Most people didn’t know what to do with me in the years following treatment. I wasn’t a victim any more, but I wasn’t who I used to be either, either before or during treatment. My wounded psyche acted out. I shed a lot of old ways of being in the world and, in the process, a lot of people and relationships. That’s always kind of been my MO, though, out with the old, in with the new. I don’t mean any of this in a “poor little me” way, because every day I am grateful for the support I received. Since I was diagnosed in 2008, most people didn’t know what to do with me. A lot of them bolted.

Most of the time, I am at peace with that.

Yesterday I realized that my own habit of disappearing from my past doesn’t always work either.

I had my annual checkup with the surgeon, aka The Cancer Ninja. She’s the one who cut through the months of misdiagnoses and crapola by looking at my films and examining me for about 40 seconds. She knew what was going on before she ever got her little knife out. She’s blunt and she’s the best I’ve met.

But she also scares the hell out of me.

No big deal on the appointment, though, right?  I mean, it’s been SEVEN YEARS since I sat in her conference room bawling as she told me that I likely had stage 3A cancer and had about a 2/3 chance of still being around in five years.

I was working at my desk about 5 hours before my appointment yesterday when this tidal wave of visceral fear and sadness and anger and dread hit me. I actually gasped.

Out loud.

Fortunately no one was around to hear.

I had about 3,000 memories at once, kicked off by the moment last year when the Ninja told me, “I always knew you’d be ok.”

A bundle of nerves for the rest of the day, I did my best to zip it up and maintain. I mentioned it in a text to my husband, but really, what’s he supposed to do with that information? No one is going to bring us meals because I had a panic attack/PTSD episode. The sun’s still going to come up tomorrow and the no longer little kids are still going to need school supplies and new shoes and rides to soccer practice. Hopefully, I’ll still have a job after my outburst.

You are lucky, so lucky, if you have the crowds there to lift you up like I did during part of your odyssey. But eventually you’ve got to do some work.

My pastor used to tell me during my treatment — I’m doing my part, now you have to do yours. 

With the exception of a little insurance snafu caused by my husband’s recent job change, it went smoothly. By smoothly I mean no lumps, no bumps, no cause for concern.

Now go, have a year.

One more cancer check next month with my oncologist, then I get to go back to my job of pretending that there never was a stupid well.

What’s Einstein say the definition of insanity is again?