I’ve been anxious since I left the hospital two months ago; waking up most mornings with my heart racing for no particular reason. When I wake, thoughts about what I should do with my day run through my mind. Should I just relax, breathe, and enjoy the summer now that the big treatment is over? Or, should I use my increasing energy to start setting things in motion towards the future I want for myself.
I’ve found myself unable to embrace either option; feeling paralyzed by this unknown state. Was there going to be a future for me? Could I finally move the bookmark out of the illness chapter of my life? As I waited to go in for the PET scan and then waited for the results, I felt very positive about the outcome, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up. There was a great fear that reality would not align with my feelings.
I did what I could to get myself motivated and excited for some plans I made for the coming months. But, at the same time, I hesitated in letting my mind get too far into the next thing – just in case the next thing turned out to be looking for another way to try get rid of cancer.
Now that I have the results and I know that the treatment was a success, I’m free. It’s a strange feeling and it’s still not fully sunk in for me. Everyone else seems more excited than I am. For over four years, cancer was an unpleasant reality, and it’s hard to believe that it is no longer my reality. Change, even when positive, can be uncomfortable and scary.
There are still a lot of unknowns. I don’t know where I will live, or where I will work, but that will all eventually become clear. The biggest unknown is now known and I can let out a sigh of relief. While it’s true that none of us know if we will be here tomorrow, I certainly feel better planning for tomorrow now that I no longer have a life-threatening illness as a constant companion.
I feel more able to take in life again. Walking through the park after receiving the good news, I had a greater appreciation for everything that I noticed. I was in awe at the way the sunlight filtered through the trees, and delighted in the smells of the forest and the songs of the birds. My senses felt more sensitive. I’ve felt numb these past months; just going through the motions of life, wondering if it is all worth it – not from a place of despondency, but just wondering….What is really the point of all this?
I’ve heard it’s common for people to have some kind of existential crises after treatment stops. That helped me to stay grounded and be able to maintain some level of involvement with the things I was doing. I hope now I can be more fully involved in the things I choose to do.
To start down a path and fully commit to it is something I’ve always had trouble with – even when I didn’t have a serious illness. But during the time I was dealing with cancer, I still managed to go back to school, find new hobbies, and form many new friendships. And although it was discouraging when I had to stop certain things or slow down when my health fluctuated, I still saw value in starting things that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to continue with.
It’s important for me to acknowledge this now as I feel my reluctance to move forward. I’m not sure if some of the choices I am making are going to work out for me, but I feel like any efforts I make will somehow be worth it. I don’t expect my new endeavours to go smoothly or be easy – life doesn’t work that way. There may be leaps forwards, but there may also be steps backwards. And, life may swerve in a completely different direction at times, where it will take effort to get back on course again.
I don’t feel like I’m moving on with life, I’m still just moving through life. Since no one moves through life in a straight line or at a consistent speed, in that respect, not much has really changed for me. The authors of Picking Up the Pieces: Moving Forward after Surviving Cancer, state that “transition means coming to terms with the new environment in which you find yourself.” However, life is a constant state of flux, and we are always finding ourselves in new situations, it’s just that some situations feel more overwhelming than others.
Cancer was one of those overwhelming situations. Over the years, my sense of identity, meaning, and control were lost – then I fell into the “post-treatment Void” defined in Picking up the Pieces as a space where “[one] is learning to heal while at the same time trying to resume daily life”. Trying to get back to “normal” while being open to new possibilities hasn’t been working, because what was normal for my pre-cancer life, no longer is. I’m learning to accept that finding a new normal for myself won’t happen immediately.
In The Way Of Transition: Embracing Life’s Most Difficult Moments, William Bridges states that “it is not change that most people resist, but rather the pain and discomfort of the adjustment period of transition.” I find this to be very true for myself. Obviously no longer having cancer is a welcomed change, but it’s also a big adjustment and it’s taking me time to adapt and integrate that reality along with the other fluctuations in life.
I had to give up control in order to heal, but now I need to establish some sense of control again. I know that control is an illusion, but taking steps to put my life in order is essential to move out of the overwhelming feelings of chaos and uncertainty that often arise.
During treatment, I had structure and support. As that has fallen away, I find myself without much guidance on how to piece life together again. I was always very independent and decisive, but now, I have trouble making the smallest decisions. I know that this, like everything else, will also change and I look forward to seeing where the choices I have made will lead me.
I am in a time which is equally exciting and frightening. Despite feeling conflicted about many things, I am grateful to still be moving through life.
Photo: Ramiro Torrents