Familiar and strange

My life right now feels almost familiar, like a distant relative with whom I am becoming reacquainted. This is the month of reprieve. My energy is back up (meaning, back up to around 75% of normal, without getting knocked down to 40% every other week), my immunity is back up (again, relative, but a faster recovery), no doctor visits, no “bing bing BONG” from the IV pump. Cooking (dishes, ugh), moms group, grocery store! Hobby Lobby! Grocery store!

Just over three weeks have passed since my final chemo treatment. Twelve down, NONE to go. I drove myself to hydration/Neulasta shot appointment the day after, and on the way home I cried. From relief that this part was over, yes. But also in mourning for the year I’d just had, in recognition of the sad, sick, sorry, tired, fearful, apathetic, stressed, worried, disconnected, resolute person I have been. For the tired, tired, TIRED person I am. For the sacrifices that have been made, relatively few of them by me, and the work that has been done, relatively little of it by me, and the changes that have been endured, to get me and my family to this point.

I told a friend last week that I keep hearing people say how having cancer changed their life and made them a better person. Well, I am here to tell you that cancer has certainly changed my life, but I really don’t think I am any better a person than I was before. It would be nice to feel like all of this was somehow redemptive in the short-term and for my earthly benefit…but for now it is enough to have survived it. The rest will have to come later.

I might know myself better. I know now that my strength is in endurance more than in action, but also that I can do what needs to be done. I know that I have relatively little physical vanity, but what I do have is outraged about the hair loss and the scars and looking older (I do) and following doctor’s orders without fail. I know that I can forget that I LOOK like a cancer patient when I am going about my business and hanging out with my kids, but it’s harder to forget that I am one. I still think of it as my little secret out in public, but I had someone ask me if I’d had cancer. Turns out he had, too–testicular cancer in his early 20s. Takes one to know one, eh? Or or maybe just to have the courage to name one out loud.

In case you were wondering, I didn’t shave my head. My hair is very thin, but it is still there and what is left is “mine to keep” as my oncologist cheerfully informed me. It is still falling out a bit, but less and less. Hopefully that will stop soon. Then the fun of all of it growing back in will begin…nobody really talks about having your hair grow back in when it only partially fell out. I’m willing to bet it looks pretty funny. See that? Outrage, talking a good game.

Still. I am relieved that chemo is over. I am still, every day, incredibly grateful that Stephen is healthy. That he survived his internship with me and Hodgkin’s. I can look forward and see the light at the end of the tunnel, even if a biopsy and radiation are in the way and blocking the light a bit. It’s almost over. At least, the treatment phase is almost over. Recovery, physical and emotional, is a longer game than that, but from the standpoint of survival mode, recovery mode looks like a pretty decent deal.

I am thankful to have a portion of my brain back. My memory is still shot–not that it was great to begin with–but one of the most disconcerting effects of chemo during the recovery days was feeling like I couldn’t think. Like decisions were overwhelming. Like it was impossible to deal with more than one child at a time. It was a constant state of disorientation for several days at a time. HOW WILL I EVER BE ABLE TO DO THIS?!?! I would wonder, as I contemplated the fact that someday I will not have a nanny or my mom or other caring adult around all the time. Someday I would be alone with my children again. Well, three weeks out, it happens quite a bit, and it’s okay. It’s very good, not least because I can think again. SO glad that part is over!

And now. We have also been blessed in the last three weeks in so many ways. Meals. Flowers. A gathering for celebration. Prayers. Sweet concerned inquiries. And in the mail, a surprise from afar, a sign that people we have never met are thinking of us, praying for us, ministering to us as a manifestation of the love of God. If you ever wonder if the little bit that you have done for someone matters–it does. All of the little bits add up, but each one is no less valuable for being part of a bigger whole.

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6 Responses to Familiar and strange

  1. reneebordner says:

    Congratulations! Hugs and prayers to you and your beautiful family!

  2. Eileen says:

    I want to raise a champagne glass to this, and give you a big hug. 🙂

  3. C. Jayne Trent says:

    Dear Emily, you articulate so beautifully how you feel; thanks for sharing your story with us. Can’t wait to see if your hair grows in curly 🙂 love from the Trents

  4. katie says:

    I agree with Eileen!!!

  5. Kirsten says:

    Oh Emily, what a road you have traveled! I looked this up tonight, wondering about the latest details, and I’m glad to hear that you are nearing the end of the treatment. Your strength and endurance are impressive. I pray for healing and deep, sweet rest for you.
    (Kirsten Cruzen)

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