it’s been awhile. and trust me, it’s not because my calendar has been jam packed. it’s been a while because well, this. this season of my life. this one. right now. it’s the hardest one. i am willing to bet i have said that about a dozen times in my life. thinking that my high school heartbreak or c plus in community college spanish were my hardest moments. hell, i bet i even said it about having the virus, recovering from the virus, having cancer and now, recovering from cancer. but no, this season. it’s the hardest. and it’s not a competition, i promise. or at least that’s what i am saying to myself and all the seasons that have passed. that’s why it’s been a little bit since i unloaded my latest and greatest right here, in an ugly, messy pile before you. the last few weeks have been jam packed with a whole lotta healing and a whole lot of emotions. it’s been messy and ragged and rough around the edges. because when this storm started brewing, i talked about how unchartered this territory really is. there is zero manual for it. and i say all the time, there definitely should be. for me. for my husband. for all the people who have to carry someone through it. but there isn’t. making it unchartered territory. and honestly, i didn’t think it would suddenly be smooth sailing as soon as chemotherapy ended or even after my surgery. yes, i knew i would probably feel less and less horrific each day but i also knew that my brain would suddenly start throwing flags on the plays. because during the hard times of treatment, my brain was just overwhelmed with existing. just waking up each day to still be riddled with cancer and nausea and barely even able to stand. i would cry myself to sleep only to find my face still damp with tears at five am. and when i finished treatment and finally had a break in the action, it almost felt like it was just enough time for crippling anxiety to creep in and land on my shoulder. everyone is probably looking at me and thinking ‘oh bless her heart; what a year it’s been for her’. and you ain’t lying! but that’s the thing. it’s been a year. a whole freaking year. i remember vividly the day i was exposed to the virus. it was march ninth of last year. and i remember coming home from work knowing it had happened to me. and the next three weeks spiraled out of control and the days were long and terrible and downright frightening. and i remember the days in isolation. so incredibly lonely and filled with fear. and the days in the hospital, teeth chattering from a deadly infectious disease causing a rampant fever. i remember the pain. my eyelashes hurt. my teeth hurt. my fingernails hurt. i remember just how frightened i was but how brave i pretended to be. and how much emotional healing had to happen to get to this point. the summer was spent watching my hair fall out from post traumatic stress and the fatigue had settled deep into my bones. and before i could take a deep enough breath- there was cancer. knocking on my door. and even though i wanted to slam the door shut, cancer waltzed right on in & we hit the ground running. and it’s been a long year. and i have watched myself fall completely apart. shatter into a million fragments. come completely undone. i have watched my face fall and my body deteriorate. i have watched the sadness and the pain and the agony ripple across my whole existence. i have quite literally stood in front of the mirror and sobbed. the pieces of me spread out amongst me. unsure which ones to try to save or glue back together. agonizing over it. because the year took so much from me. and it broke me in places that i didn’t know were weak. and the space that i am in now; well, it requires a great deal of healing. and i will say this once and i am gonna say it loud for the people in the back. HEALING. ISNT. LINEAR. damn. caps lock again. but it’s true. just like grief. it isn’t linear. and what that means is that just because the healing has begun, it doesn’t mean it’s going to go as planned. more specifically, just because the healing has begun doesn’t mean it’s going to follow a timeline. there’s this kinda unspoken vibe. that since the hard parts are behind me, it must be easy ahead. and i hate that way of thinking. not because of my pessimistic nature. it’s just that it sets an unrealistic expectation. we can’t say that about healing. because healing isn’t like that. it’s not linear. it’s not on a timeline. there are good days and great days and absolutely horrible ones too. and they will go up and down and up and down. and it’ll take time. because that’s really all you can give.
healing isn’t linear. healing is part of this whole ‘no manual, unchartered’ business. it’s this new space that i am in. healing from the emotional trauma of a year on top of healing from the medical trauma of a year. mix in physical healing from five monumental months of hellacious chemotherapy followed by a twelve hour surgery. it’s a lot to ask of a person. and this new space. this healing space. it’s one that i have never navigated before. one that’s brand new for me. and just as terrifying as the spaces that i have been in. there’s this unspoken pressure to heal quickly and correctly and right now. and there’s this unspoken sense that things have to always be better than the day before. even if they aren’t. because the truth is. sometimes i still wake up mad as hell. mad at the world and mad at the universe. sometimes i wake up sad beyond belief. some days i still can’t look in the mirror. sometimes i cry over it. even though the hard parts are behind me, this part is hard too! the face to face battles. the one on one conflicts. the head to head knockouts. me against me. healing against pain. taking the sadness and grief and anger and agony and putting it into this one spot. and hoping that it can all heal too.
i took a major step this week and joined a survivorship therapy group. one that focuses on being a survivor. one that directly focuses on entering survivorship and how blindly we are led here. it’s gracefully navigating the fault lines. the cracks in life after a huge shift. it’s understanding who i am now that everything has happened and the dust is settling. and right now, it’s heavy in acceptance. the stage of grief that in my opinion, is always the hardest stage. ‘it’s not your fault’. something i repeat pretty regularly to myself. almost like a mantra. i feel like i have to remind myself that what has happened, just happened. i couldn’t control the outcome or change the outcome and that it’s just how it is. navigating survivorship is a lot more complicated than i was prepared for. because it’s grief, disguised. and right now, i am deep in the throes of grief. and i am grappling with the acceptance stage. because as i stepped into the bathroom to shower earlier, i stood in front of the mirror and unwound all the abdomen dressings. my husband came in to help me and he said ‘is it healing?’ and i said, ‘i actually think it’s dying’. his face was confused so i explained that the parts of the tissue that have shifted to become dark purple and black- are in fact dead. that tissue couldn’t survive without blood supply. and therefore, it failed to thrive and has died. it’s fancy medical term is necrosis. it can happen at any time in healing. sometimes instantly after surgery and other times, weeks later. he rubbed my shoulder and said ‘i am sorry, babe’. and i shrugged my shoulders and climbed into the shower. and fifteen minutes later, i was back in front of the damn mirror again. packing the dying tissue with fresh dressings. and there it was. ‘it’s not your fault. please don’t blame yourself for this. please accept your body as it is’. navigating the turmoil. the sheer agony that my body is still experiencing. and trying not to blame myself or shame my body for the way it’s healing. but the tissue is dying. and it feels like my fault. even though, it’s not. it feels like i can’t keep myself safe. that i don’t deserve a new healthy body. and that the dying tissue means i haven’t earned my place here in survivorship yet. acceptance. my least favorite place in grief. navigating all the coves of acceptance. walking the fault lines of the cancer aftermath. finding acceptance in the scars, the new shapes, the new outline in clothing, the dark hair with greys woven in. acceptance in the loss of feeling, the tender abdomen and the dark purple scars. in the dying tissue and the parts that live on. acceptance in the loss of what was. and the acceptance of what now is.
no one handed me a map when i was dropped off here nearly nine weeks ago. just a smile and a wave and a shove out the door. navigate babe. trudge through the cloudy parts. climb the hills that still lie ahead. acknowledge the mountains that you’ve left behind. rest in the valleys. study the fault lines. respect that this part is hard too. grief, much like healing, is not linear. some days are picnics. other days are rain storms. but we are here. mapless and afraid. navigating. accepting the new while mourning the old.
and what lies ahead, will heal us. and what lies behind us, broke us. and this leg of the journey is the glue. it’s creating the bond that will forever hold us together. sealing the fault lines.