I don’t know where the time has gone – today marks four years since I was officially diagnosed with Lymphoma. At that time, I was told I could recover in six months; I thought that seemed like a dreadfully long recovery, yet here I am… four years later, still in this situation. It’s not the same situation though, life has changed – I have changed.
Usually, I don’t think much about it; in past years, this day has come and gone without much acknowledgment on my part. I’m thinking more about it this year, perhaps because now I can actually see an end to it. It’s not that I wasn’t positive or hopeful before, I was, but something feels different this year. It’s more than hope or a positive outlook; I feel the confidence in myself to finally get through this. I have witnessed myself get through everything until this point, and reflecting back on what I have pulled myself through so far, the rest just seems easy now; it’s quite a contrast to the impossible endeavor it once seemed. I also feel like I’m in a better place than I’ve ever been. I feel able to do what I need to do in order to move on with my life – or, perhaps I should say that I am ready to move on with my life; it’s become apparent that I wasn’t ready before.
As horrible as the cancer experience has been, it’s offered me many things; at times it has served as a catalyst for making important life decisions, yet on other occasions, it has been a great excuse to not move forward in life. Over the years, I have made it what I wanted to make it at any given time. I’ve seen myself use sheer willpower to bounce back from a near-dead state and I’ve also watched myself waste away and sulk into depressive states when that felt justifiable.
Looking back now, the decisions I made about whether to hide from life or expose myself to it seem more conscious than I realized at the time. I like to blame circumstances, but the limitations of any situation are very subjective; Although I’ve aways known I’m stubborn, I didn’t quite realize how difficult I could make life for myself. I’m not blaming myself for getting cancer or anything like that, but I will admit to being more resistant that necessary and I think I needed something of this caliber to be able to see the changes I needed to make in my life.
It’s always been so easy for me to sweep things under the rug. When I was first diagnosed, I thought that would be enough to motivate me to make the changes that I needed to – there is nothing like the lingering threat of death to motivate someone…right? Not really, I continued to sweep so much under that rug over the last four years, that now there is no choice but to finally shake it out. Although I’d peek under the rug from time to time and remove a crumb or two, I failed to see the total amount of debris that accumulated over the course of my life. I didn’t see it – how could I stop and look at my life when I was so busy avoiding it?
I used to think I was engaged in life, and on the surface, it appeared that I was. I made my travels and studies a priority, learning and experiencing things that most people only dream of. I felt I was making the most of my life and so did others as they expressed their envy of my adventurous lifestyle. I thought I was brave, I felt I was living fully, but in reality, I was afraid of having a deeper experience of life. My lifestyle had the potential to be deep, but I just floated along the surface, dipping my toes in here and there, never immersing myself in anything completely. Afraid to dive in deeper, I continued to just float along with my head above the water searching for the next shallow stream to flow towards.
At times I grew tired of floating and I would contemplate putting down an anchor, but there was always a reason to hesitate. I felt I could always do it later, after the next exciting thing. My last year going overseas was 2012, and I didn’t even want to go. I craved stability, yet I went anyway, telling myself that after one more year of adventures, I would return to Canada and finally make efforts to get more grounded in life. Well, life cooperated, and shortly after my return home, I was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkins disease and ever since then, cancer has been trying to ground me.
I don’t regret my decisions and the experiences that I’ve had; they have helped shaped me into who I am, yet I wonder how much life I missed out on as I ran from place to place, unwilling to stop for fear of what I might find. Cancer stopped me in mid-air, and it’s taken me four years to hit the ground and be able to take a good look around. It’s a strange feeling to land for the first time. My legs feel wobbly, I know the ground beneath is stable, yet, I’m unsure how to navigate on solid terrain.
When I went skydiving at 17, my biggest fear was not the jumping, but the landing. Would I land in the right field? Could I land without falling to my knees or crashing into something? I couldn’t envision a smooth landing for myself at that time, and I’ve never been able to. I’ve avoided landing all my life for fear of landing in the wrong place or in the wrong way.
I’ve avoided long-term projects, a steady career, and deep relationships. Investing my time and energy has always seemed too risky. I’ve feared boredom and failure, and it seems my way of coping with that has been to avoid committing to anything; it’s easier to throw things away before they have a chance to go stale. However, In my quest to keep life fresh, I’ve failed to see that there can be beauty in the decay; boredom and failure are opportunities to see life in new ways, not something to avoid at all costs.
There are always more layers to be uncovered in any situation. I’m learning to look deeper at what is beneath the ground I am currently on. There is so much to discover if I just take the time to pause and engage. By committing to see things through, I challenge myself to get creative, to see the same people and the same situations in new ways, to continually find ways to be enlivened by that which appears mundane or routine. There is no depth in life without commitment; if I can’t commit to what is happening now, what is the point in being here?
I used to think I could commit to things – anytime there was something I wanted to do or see, I had the discipline and focus to get “there” – but, now I’m here. Cancer has become the longest commitment of my life. My strategies for dealing with it have been productive at times, but have also included a fair share of ignoring it, avoiding it, and distracting myself from it. Yet, no matter how much I’ve tried to avoid it, I haven’t been able to float along to the next thing in life because I’m bound to give it an adequate amount of attention. Perhaps if I just give life the amount of attention it deserves, I won’t need such a heavy anchor to keep me on the ground. And, if I learn to stand on this solid ground, I may finally be able to build a cohesive life, instead of a muddled puddle of experience with no visible center point. Floating along between here and there isn’t a life. There is a center to everything, and I’m just starting to find mine.