i grew up on a farm. not like a working farm. that’s everyone’s first assumption. ‘aww what kind of animals?’ or ‘did you get up at four everyday to milk cows?’ and those questions always make me giggle because no. no, i didn’t. i grew up on eighty beautiful acres of farmland in a small rural town just south of maryland‘s capital city. and before i keep talking, this is the perfect opportunity and place to stop and remind you that maryland is the superior state. there i said it and got the ugly truth out of the way. anyways, i grew up amongst a dozen or so cattle. i mean, nothing crazy. they were meat cattle. always. even before i knew that, they were. they would arrive every april and leave every october; like clockwork. and as a kid, i would go down to greet them when they would unload off this huge truck that came from dallas. the truck would back up to this ramp that my grandfather built and the cows would parade off the truck, down the ramp and into the field. when i was younger, there were usually about twenty of them. but in my teen years, it was closer to a dozen or so. and i would name them. it felt more humane and made it seem like they were friends. wow, corny and cheesy age eight memories. but there is one thing that always made me sad. from the first herd to the three that roam the pasture across from my childhood home right now. the ear tags. i used to call them earrings when i was a kid. bright orange or sometimes yellow tags, pierced into the right ear. permanent. not for fashion. a branding. a marking. for life. affixed with a number to track them and to monitor their health. but it always bothered me. made me sad. because it’s the first thing you notice when you look at them. and you instantly know that they aren’t pets. and aren’t destined for forever. and while i realize i just spent the better part of a large paragraph talking about large domestic farm animals, i promise the guts and glory of this blog post are just around the corner.
marked. forever. destined for the path that is pierced. completely out of their control. just came into this world and the universe woke up & chose meat market. and that’s a whole other story. of my attempt to be vegetarian at age sixteen in defense of their fate. it lasted like six days. but i find myself in a similar avenues. not in a cattle to slaughter type way so to speak. but marked. forever. by my experiences. by what has happened to me. forever changed and altered by what i have been through. and i know that you’re thinking; did this girl just legit ramble for an entire novel size paragraph about cows just to get me to this point right here? yup. i did that. because this week has been really hard. and i can practically feel the audience’s massive sigh because if there is ever a word i use too much, it’s probably the word hard. but alas, i digress. this week has been hard. not like monumentally hard compared to the weeks that have passed. but hard nonetheless. cancer changes you. medical trauma changes you. advocacy in medical settings changes you. sitting at home for a year changes you. needles and surgeries and appointments and everything that comes with the diagnosis, yup, you guessed it- it changes you. it’s this badge of honor that you get to wear. but it’s also really heavy sometimes. it’s holding your entire world in your hands after it’s been smashed to pieces and run over by a bus. it’s the exhaustion from retelling your symptoms or going over your medication lists. from the sleepless nights and the fatigue. from feeling like you’ve been handed back the controller to your life but yet nothing is in your control. and it’s a whirlwind, lemme tell ya. it’s been ugly and it’s been a ride. one day you’re handed your life expectancy via a phone call from a woman named peggy at the state health department and the next day, you’re planning your funeral from a four by four infectious disease ward. eight days later, you’re handed a paper mask and told you’re the only one who lived in the covid floor that week. fast forward through months of agonizing moments, nights filled with nightmares and terrors. walking into a scan with the idea that your lungs have healed and the virus will soon be just a blip on your medical record to the fateful phone calls, one after the other. ‘it’s stage zero. just a simple surgery’. ‘it’s stage two.’ ‘wait, we see a third tumor and it’s almost three centimeters. it’s stage two a’. chemo first. no, surgery first. no, you pick. annapolis. baltimore. glen burnie. annapolis. baltimore. glen burnie. and here i am. standing here. nearly fourteen months after i fought hard for my life. twice in that span of time. marked. branded. changed. shifted. changed by the very tilt of my life. the curve of the universe. marked by the experiences. the ones that have completely caused me to come undone.
and it’s a weird place to be. man, if i had a nickel for every time i say that. because today for instance. was a normal day. i went to acupuncture where of course, cancer is the hot topic. fine though because i expect it. after all, i am going there to cure the long lasting side effects from chemo treatments. and i leave and hit up starbucks because duh, of course. and my sister and i head to costco. and guess what comes up? cancer. because i don’t look like my driver’s license picture. ya know, no hair, duh! ‘it’s the no hair that’s throwing me off’. yeah, no shit. me too! and as i am pulling into the driveway, the surgeon calls. to talk about what? oh, you guessed it. cancer. more specifically, the surgery that cancer forced me to have. and next thing i know, i am having a full blown sob session in my car at quarter to five on a thursday. because right now, my life has a big pink ribbon on it. cancer has marked me. it’s marked my face, my head, my skin, my chest, my marriage, my current living situation, my family, my relationships, my workplace, my brain, my friendships, my energy. it’s this new way of gauging my mood and my abilities. people identify me by the cancer. it’s the marker. it feels like it’s what people see first. the stares. the downshift in the eyes. the failure to make eye contact with me. to see me as a person. cancer has marked me. it’s changed me. it manipulated my whole existence. forced me to take the strings and weave them in such a way that you’d never know how they were strung together in the first place. marked in such a way that the world only recognizes me in this space, as this version and i am still clinging to what was. to the version that existed before. and it’s hard to loosen the grip on who you were. and who you thought you would become. it’s a part of grief that i have never tangled with. it’s a part of grief i never expected to encounter. and i have been searching for myself since i was seventeen. it’s truly been a uphill battle. i have been lost for awhile. trying to find my place and my people and my role. trying to be understood and trying not to cry. trying to quiet my head long enough to see straight. because when i became sick last year, everything in my life shifted. and when i became well, the expectation to return everything to it’s original place, well, that was a big ask. it was like being asked to take your entire grocery cart and put everything back on the shelves; exactly as it was. in the exact spot it was. the peanut butter, the spaghetti sauce, the milk. the pineapple slices, the frozen peas, the off brand children’s tylenol. exactly where it was. it’s impossible. it’s big.
it’s a big ask. to return to normal. to accept what’s happened. to take the freshly branded skin, to pick up the marked existence, to march forward. it’s painful. it’s heavy. it’s a big ask. because the marking, it was hard. it was monumental. it shifted everything. uprooted everything. pulled all the woven strings out. sometimes it feels like today’s the day and other times, it feels like it’ll never happen. my life has been forever marked. by an infectious disease experience and by a cancer diagnosis and by cancer treatments and a life altering surgery and a gruesome recovery. and the bumps and hitches and strides along the way. and it’s been marked by the people who stayed and carried me when i couldn’t walk myself. and it’s marked by those who left. when the storm was at its peak. when the winds were fierce and the waves high. it’s marked by different pivotal moments; days since the last chemotherapy treatment or days left in a treatment cycle. celebrating the big wins & remembering what has been lost. honoring this place. recognizing that right now, acceptance is wiggling its way through. it’s navigating through the heartache and tears and loneliness and sleeplessness. through the trauma and body image issues and the unnecessary comments. the marks are significant. they are deep and powerful and heavy and hold weight. they symbolize the fight, the sacrifice, the war, the victory. but they also signify the pain and the struggles. and those of us who are marked; by our pain or our grief or our sadness, we are enough as we are. even on the days where self identify feels like the biggest mid life crisis, we are still enough as we are. we are enough as we are. as we understand what marks us forever; as we accept what marks us forever; as we shift into what became our marks.
some of us are marked forever. changed forever. altered forever. unprepared for the moment in which we became marked. much like the cattle at the very beginning of this novel of a post. chosen for a destiny that they may not have liked or even chosen for themselves. marked. forever. identifiable by the marking. forever changed. those of us who are marked by something the universe has given us- we struggle with it every day. we wake up with the mark on our hearts, in our heads and on our sleeves.
but we continue to show up. to rise each day & march into the world with our heads held high, forever marked and forever changed by the cards that were dealt; but resilient because of it. but strong because of it. but capable because of it. but enough still because of it. and most importantly, unique in our marking because of it.