validation.

one of the things that i just constantly want to scream from every rooftop is ‘feel your feelings’. i have literally felt this way my entire life. that i sometimes just want to have the space to feel whatever i am feeling. and trust me, i get it. not everyone is team feelings and not everyone has the space or the gumption or the patience for it. i hear ya. i really do. and when i started this blog almost three (*gasp*) years ago, it was a therapeutic way to unload the things that kept me awake at night. actually, more so the things that woke me in the middle of the night. specifically around three seventeen. and if you’re new here or even just newer, i probably haven’t talked much about the start of this journey. and in the interest of not boring you to death, i will spare you the long story. i started this blog as a way to brain dump. it became just a place to put all the things that bothered me out into the universe. because maybe if they were there, they wouldn’t cramp my style anymore. things like the end of friendships or the crushing weight of grief. the hard parts of marriage and relationships. wishing the world was less judgmental. navigating adulthood; which by the way, i have been killing that game. and over the course of time, this place became a safe haven for my mental health. for my therapy session reflections. a place to spit out all the moments that have broken me and how i have worked tirelessly to glue myself back together. a place to feel my feelings. and it’s been that for me. it truly has. but there are also days when my feelings are so massive and they literally create a massive lump in the back of my throat and i can’t even see straight. those are the days when i just want to feel them. so that the air will clear and i can trudge ahead. and that was yesterday. and the day before. and even right now. where my brain is emotionally charged. and an even bigger shift happened when i entered the year from the devil himself. i spent a lot of time writing about space and grace and healing. processing trauma and breaking the cycles. my mental health and my physical health became the talk of the town, so to speak. and now; it’s a new year. but even with a new year in the palm of my hands, i find that some of twenty twenty seeped through the crack between december thirty first and the first of january. the pandemic of course being one of those things that joined us again in the new year. but also, i unfortunately did not leave my fears and worries in the year we just said ‘adios’ to and that’s okay. but, things have been a little off course lately. and i wish i could say that i haven’t been giving myself a hard time about that. but that would be a lie. after stopping chemo treatments and spending some time recovering from a fairly tough few weeks, i really wanted to normalize. and before you come for me about ‘normal’, you have to understand something. nothing has been normal for me over the last year of my life. my health deteriorated rather quickly over the course of ten months and at the young age of thirty two, it’s not something that ya really plan for nor really know how to navigate. i honestly can’t tell you how dehumanizing it feels to be unable to walk up a flight of stairs or even drive yourself to an appointment or get a glass of water. in the later weeks of treatment, i could barely walk. the pain and the muscle weakness had become so advanced and immense that all daily tasks were off the table.

so as i started the next leg of the journey, with just immunotherapy and an opportunity to heal, i immediately wanted to normalize. clean my house, organize my pantry, start my doctoral program, walk the dog, go grocery shopping, play with my niece and nephew, stay up late. but the reality is, my body still can’t. i crash hard around eight pm and my legs and back hurt if i stand for more than ten minutes. the side effects from chemo toxicity combined with the side effects from immunotherapy are just raging. then you add in a twelve hour surgery to reconstruct half of my body parts. yikes. my body is still struggling and i am so frustrated that i haven’t been able to catch up to my pre coronavirus cancer self. and it’s been challenging to feel like i have to return to my former self. to what existed before. i don’t even know what that looks like. i don’t even know who i am. i look in the mirror and don’t even recognize the reflection. not just because of the hair loss or the patchy blistered skin or the round face from steroid use. or this new surgically constructed body that i absolutely hate. yup, i said it. i can’t look at it without tears pooling in both of my eyes. and i said that out loud yesterday.

to my therapist on zoom. that this new body isn’t me. it’s weird and it’s strange and it feels foreign. and that’s because it is. and i don’t have to be happy about it. i don’t have to throw it a welcome home party. because while it saved my life. this whole ‘going through the hard stuff to get to the other side’ stuff. not one minute was fun. not one minute brought joy. it was painful and hard and made me ache from head to toe. it broke my heart and nearly shattered me. i absolutely loathe when people tell me ‘at least you get new boobs out of it’. out of what? fighting cancer. yeah, let me hit that sign up sheet again, said no one ever. or my favorite new mantra that keeps making its way into my inbox and dms- ‘at least the hard part is over’. which hard part? the whole thing? i am confused. because absolutely none of this was more fun or less fun, harder or easier. it all just sucked. still does suck. sure, i am on the side of the grass that’s just slightly greener but it doesn’t mean anything at all. because collectively, and i hate to say this but it is super true, collectively- this whole experience has hardened me. i hate when people box up my feelings like they understand it or know what i have gone through. and i absolutely hate when people assume that because one milestone has been met, that the ones that past are insignificant. the whole thing has been messy. the whole thing has unstrung me. the whole big mess has been mine. this whole damn time. sometimes i feel as though i have fallen behind and that’s okay. stop telling me no. sometimes i feel ugly or changed. stop telling me that i am crazy. or to give it more time. sometimes i am sad. that this has been my existence. that this is what has happened to me. that this has changed my course. that this has altered my plans. sometimes i am just sad. and i am allowed to be sad so please stop trying to direct my feelings elsewhere. sometimes i am lonely. because cancer is and always will be a lonely place. where your head and body are filled with experiences that have literally left you in the most traumatic spaces. and its a solo battle. one you walk into and out of alone. i am forever altered; forever changed; forever hardened. wanting to just feel what has happened to me. wanting to just say what i want to say. i have been through so much and that has hardened me. losing friends because of cancer. battling cancer in a pandemic. watching my brain and my body deteriorate in front of my eyes. becoming forgetful. becoming tired. becoming anxious. and watching people try to steer me away from any emotion or feeling. i have been through so much. and right now, my brain and my body are just now catching word. we are processing it all. taking the parts that hurt the most and smoothing out the hard edges. because we have to walk forward, carrying them inside of us. inside this new, surgically altered, sewing pattern stitched body. and we just need some time. some time to smooth and sand down the rigid areas. so they don’t cut us. so they don’t cause any more harm. so that we can peacefully carry them forever. cancer marks you for life. it is a sad, scary, ugly mold that you get to walk around with forever. but it hardens you. it toughens you up. it makes you fight. and that makes you tired. but it also makes you strong. strong enough to say what you want to say and feel whatever you want to feel. and as i write this, i can feel the pain gather in the base of my throat. thinking about the last twelve months of my life and how off course it truly has been. these are hard days too. sure, have i had harder days? absolutely. i have had days that have wrecked me as a whole. days where i couldn’t even get out of bed. from pain. from the sheer violent way that cancer took everything from me. in eleven short days. not giving me a chance to try to stop it. it was a mess. all of last year. and a good chunk of this year too. and there is something really challenging about being handed good news while you’re still grappling with the bad news. like which one is it? how can i extend gratitude to this cancer free information when my whole entire body is cut wide open in an effort to save my life? when my brain and my heart are so busted and broken from all the missed moments and lonely days laying in bed sobbing? how do you rebuild yourself when you can barely see straight? you could now know me and know that i am tired. that my exhaustion comes from fighting to stay alive and doing it fairly gracefully. while trying not to fall apart in the middle of it it all. holding together my marriage and my friendships and accepting it all. like a freaking ups store. pretending that the end of a twenty year friendship that abruptly ended just as chemo began didn’t break my heart. taking every new thing that happened and trying to embrace it. a new apartment. a new schedule. no regular paychecks. it has been miles and miles of just accepting and embracing. with a smile. like a warrior. with strength and resilience and never turning your back on the fight. can you imagine just how hard that is to carry? can you imagine just how hard it is to exist with all of that, right smack in your arms? right now, this pretty place. this place without cancer. this place twelve days post op. it is shiny and beautiful. it is marked by bravery. it is a stopping place in the battle. there are some days where i am so freaking proud of myself. where i literally cannot believe i did this. but there are also days where i can’t believe it ever happened. there are days when i feel like it is still happening. there are days when the bad moments are so vivid, that they wake me or jolt me. there are days when fear creeps silently and whispers words like ‘reoccurrence’ and it is so hard to not lean in to hear it. sometimes i cry because i am so happy the end is near. but sometimes i cry because the battle has been so long and so tiring and so painful and so lonely. and i have been brave and in warrior pose for so many, many days. i cry because i do not know how to be who i used to be. i don’t know how to curl my hair anymore. i don’t know how to teach through microsoft teams. i don’t know if i have the brain power to teach anymore or even write a book like i would like. i feel like i have to relearn being female and i feel like i have to relearn being a teacher. i feel like i lost some of the best parts of me to cancer. i feel a little empty sometimes. that’s when tears surface. that is when anxiety surfaces. when i think of all the things that once were, that are no longer. i am not in a place quite yet where the victory ballads ring from east to west. i am not ready for the ‘you did it’ banners. because i am in a place, where my feelings have just pulled up. they have arrived. they are here. and they need to be checked. they need space to exist for a bit. they need to be heard. they don’t want to be pushed down or away. they don’t want to be smothered with good cheer or hoorays. because this part is hard. the transition from sick to well. from cancer to cancer free. from old body to new body. everything feels new and scary and fresh and i am so terrified of ruining it all over again. what if i eat bacon and it causes cancer? what if i don’t switch to the right deodorant? will it cause cancer? the anxiety right now is hard and my feelings are real. my feelings are here. most importantly, my feelings are valid. my feelings are valid. one more time, my feelings are valid.

i am beyond grateful to be here. at the cancer free line. of a race that has been televised for far too long. grateful doesn’t even begin to cover it. but i am also having a hard time. because just a year ago, my life veered off course. and with it, went a lot of who i was. and now here i am, cancer free in a freshly stitched torso, faced with everything that got left at the starting line. and its a lot. and i am doing a lot of deep breathing. and i am taking it one day at a time. but i am here to tell you that i do not like my new boobs or my new body. i do not like the chemo brain that rattles in my head. i do not like that i am still searching for the pieces of me that i left behind. and i wish i didn’t have all the feelings that i currently have. but i do. and i am honoring them. by allowing myself the space to cry. by blogging about them as they flood. by accepting them. and validating them. as every single one of my therapists has told me to do. feelings aren’t right or wrong. they just are. right now, mine are lots of different things. sometimes they are happy and joyous and celebratory. and sometimes, they are just feeling all of the things that have happened in the last twelve months.

feelings need time and space and sometimes, validation. and i am here to tell you that your feelings are always valid. and so are mine. because when you’re going through something tough {and it doesn’t have to be cancer}, it is okay to feel mad, sad, angry, ugly, bitter, resentful, emotional, whatever. and sometimes you might feel happy and joyful and ready to party. and that’s wonderful too! but that space between. between the sad and the happy. between the tough and the not so tough- that’s the space where you let your feelings just be.

it’s okay to feel. it’s okay to be lost in them. it’s okay to feel one way today and another way tomorrow. feelings need space. feelings need time. feelings need validation.

and i’m your girl. punching validation cards on the way out of the feelings garage. xoxo.

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