Sometimes life is about loss, and sometimes that loss can immobilize us. Coming out of the pit of despair and looking up at a sunny sky through the back cloud that covered it for so long and feeling hopeful again does not just happen. It takes emotional strength and growth.
Oh April, it is a difficult month for me anyway. It reminds me how easily life can turn on a dime. I just passed my 7 year breast cancer diagnosis anniversary April 15th, or as most of my survivor friends call it, Cancerversary, anniversary is a bad descriptive word for having survived a cancer diagnosis (I always say in my mind, "so far"...). Linguists need to think of a new word to describe each year that ticks on after catastrophic illness attempts to take your life! On one hand I celebrate those 7 glorious years, the tremendous gratitude I feel when I wake up, still living, breathing and loving, the wonder of living life never goes away completely. I say a little prayer of thanks every single day.
When I was in the hospital in 2003 a very good friend at the time was losing her father to congestive heart failure, he had been ill for a long time. He died the same day I had a mastectomy, at the same hospital. She did not want to visit me, I still remember our mutual friend pushing her through my hospital room door. I was not weeping in sadness over my diagnosis, I was rejoicing that the cancer was gone, I was calm and well, on pain meds, so i was feeling pretty good. I saw the fear on my friends face, then the sorrow, and finally relief, all chasing each other in rapid succession. She said "Well you don't look bad at all". Her father passed away sometime after her visit. I loved my friend, we had been through a lot in the long years we worked together and she was very dear to me, but my having cancer lost her to me, I believe it was the association between myself and her fathers death, I will never know, but she stopped calling, emailing, or visiting. His funeral was a couple of days after I was released from the hospital. I attended it with drainage tubes still inserted into my newly flat chest. I hated to go and pull any attention away from the family, but her friends were also mine and they were scared for me too, and maybe that stung her a little too. Attending a funeral right after being diagnosed with cancer was extremely difficult for me, the days that followed I thought constantly about death and dying and I was depressed. Would that be me in a year? We had just come from my breast surgeons office, he was so sad for me, you could tell he did not think I had much of a chance. He warned me that I could not have any reconstruction for at least a year, just in case my cancer came back.
Still, I survived all the trials of cancer treatment, what many call my Hero's Journey. I did not emerge from it the same person I was before, not in mind, body or spirit, everything for me changed. Friends fell away, my job of 17 years finally came to an end, and it was no ride in the park; new managers every few years, new owners, changes in the fitness world...
I made many new and wonderful friends via an on-line BC support group I inherited. I also lost many of them to breast cancer. A beloved person in my life said to me, "Why do you put yourself through leading a group like that is such a downer, you should quit". This after I told her I lost another beloved BC sister. I told her that each one of those wonderful women supported me in dark days and I tried to do the same for them, in many ways they are like family too. I do not believe that anyone who has not been diagnosed with and survived a life-threatening disease could understand why I feel committed to the women in my support group.
This person however, she should understand, she has been through a lot of trauma and illness in her life. But whereas I reached out for support because I knew I could not survive without it, she withdrew into herself and wallowed in the fear and pain, and in doing so, has become a person I no longer admire or even recognize. She does not know joy, but instead chooses to be bitter and to blame everyone for her misery. I look at her and I wonder, what happened to her heart? I pray she will heal and let her joyous self reemerge, I miss her.
Adversity can shape who we become, I know this to be true, and I am certainly not a perfect person, more a work in progress.