i chose the word rebirth as my word of the year for twenty twenty one. i chose it because during treatment to rid my body of stage two breast cancer and the three tumors hugging the insides of my right breast, i used to hear a voice whisper ‘rebirth’ to me. it usually would happen in the early mornings after a fitful night battling insomnia. often times, i would be laying in a pool of my own sweat and tears. in my childhood bedroom. and i would just be so exhausted from crying and not sleeping. and so weak from not eating. and i would just hear the word ‘rebirth’. not from me. but from somewhere. and so when i woke up from my thirteen hour surgery where my breasts were amputated and my abdomen dissected; i heard the word rebirth again. and so the word has been carrying me for the last few months. as the rough waters surged and swept me into some of the most tumultuous moments of my life. rebirth. there was something about that word. i always heard it at the moments when i was just millimeters away from giving in. from throwing the whole bathtub out with the bath water. or however that expression goes. i wanted to quit so badly. and honestly, there are still days when i feel like that now. because healing isn’t linear. and neither is grief. and even in this place, five months in remission, i sometimes hate it here. isn’t that weird? and it’s not that i hate this place in this journey so much that i want the sick part back. it’s more that healing is hard. and scary. and ugly. and uncomfortable. and it makes other people uncomfortable sometimes. and i am just standing here; watching my life transform and unfold into this thing. and it’s not an enjoyable experience at all. because there are moments where i feel like myself. these tiny pockets of time where i slip back into the person i once knew myself to be. i will laugh at something or hear an old song or see something on television. and it’ll feel like i am okay. and then it’s present moment and i am staring at myself in the mirror over the sink. begging my body to feel normal. covering my scars with my hands. panic texting my hair dresser because i am so tired of the stares i get in public. my hair lacks femininity. my eyelashes won’t grow back in. my chest is heavy and overfilled. and it’s a reminder that i was reborn. given a second chance. after facing death. twice. and there are moments where my life feels surreal and moments where it feels like an absolute blessing to be here. but there are also moments of incredible pain and sadness and uncertainty.
twice this week, my husband has held me while i sobbed. like heavily sobbed. tears soaking my pillow case kind of sobbing. why? it’s gonna sound crazy at first. because i don’t know how to be in this second chance. it’s incredibly overwhelming most of the time. waking up each day and battling between gratitude and grief. turning your face away from the thoughts that scare you. cancer. death. what you leave behind. wondering if you did it all right. so here i am. sobbing uncontrollably. because i don’t know what i am doing. i don’t know who i even am. i am definitely not the girl i used to be. i feel like my body has been through so much. some of it still buried deep. some of it too dark to repeat. some of it too overwhelming to experience ever again. the body keeps score, remember? and right now, this whole rebirth thing, well it’s a lot. more than i bargained for. it’s this whole thing that feels out of place. rebirth. that’s what a voice inside of me whispered. rebirth. the chance to do it all over again. rebirth. born again. that’s what this is. a second chance at life after tirelessly fighting to survive. and i know i probably sound like a broken record, with my hot topics being infectious diseases and cancer. but it’s the biggest and scariest thing that’s ever happened. and sometimes it feels like it’s happening over and over again every day. like i wake up and have to conquer the world knowing in the smallest part of my brain that one day, it could all come to a crashing halt again. and so i have broken down twice this week. full on sobs. because i don’t know how to be loved in this body. i don’t know how to be a friend in this body. i don’t know how to take care of this body and i don’t know how to love myself in this body. i don’t know who i am in this body. and sometimes, who am i kidding?, all the time- that breaks me apart. not knowing how to be a person, reborn. because the truth is- as a person five months into remission and seven months out of chemotherapy- i am exhausted and sometimes overwhelmed. i have chronic pain and barely sleep. my feet are always on fire and these days, i am always fighting some kind of infection. my skin is a raging mess and my chest hurts all the time. my scar lines are gnarly and make me super insecure. my hair is growing. but it’s slow and i don’t know what to do with it. and it just reminds me everyday of the war inside my body and even though it’s won, the wounds remain. and i remain forever grateful to be here. don’t get me wrong. it’s just a lot. it feels hard and uncomfortable and big and scary to shed the skin you’ve been in for so many years. to shed it and unveil something that just doesn’t feel the same. to be loved and accepted in that skin. in the exact way you were before. it’s a big ask. it’s a huge undertaking. it feels massive. it keeps me awake most nights. worrying about being enough in this body. worrying about being loved in this body. wondering if enough of me is still left to carry into this rebirth. wondering if the bravery and resilience and strength that got me here will hold steadfast. rebirth. that’s what that voice said to me. to be born again. to flourish after a decline. a revival. to be born again.
and it’s exhausting. probably as exhausting as it is to be born in the first place. i don’t know what that was like. ya know, thirty some years ago. ask my mom. but it’s this massive undertaking. to become something. but also while still clinging to the parts of you that you have to leave behind in order to grow into this new space. clinging to what i had before i was sick. holding for dear life to who i was before i was sick. before my whole world shattered. before i was stripped down to the core. there are parts of me that i don’t want to say goodbye to. there are parts of me that can’t stay anymore. there are parts of me that help me feel whole but don’t fit anymore. there are parts of me that already leave a massive gap. there are parts of me that i still need. and the searching and gathering for new parts; well i am having a hard time. it’s like i am standing in a dressing room with a million options. but nothing feels right for the occasion. and it feels unfair to have to shed what’s been mine for the last three decades. it feels unfair to have to scatter what’s left of my old shell and begin the hunt for new pieces. it feels unfair to be pushed into being born again. but here i am. sobbing uncontrollably against the pillowcases from my college apartment. and my husband is kneeling on the carpet next to the bed. and i look at him through my alligator tears. ‘how can i be loved like this?’ and he says ‘what do you mean?’ and i reply, ‘how can i be loved like this? in this place, in this space. with these scars & this hair. how can i be loved as a survivor? how can i be loved like this when i don’t even know how to love it?’ and that’s what makes this exact spot in survivorship hard and exhausting and scary and lonely. rebirth. figuring it all out again. shifting into a new place in a new body. ending the final chapter of my old life and ushering in the first few lines of this life. a second chance. a new opportunity.
most days, i don’t feel capable. as if i don’t have enough hands to keep one hand on my past and one linked to the future. and that’s because i can’t. i am not supposed to be able. rebirth. flourishing after a decline. a chance to be born again. to start anew. and man, it’s scary as hell. and even though i might look ready or even appear to be ready, i am still pretty shellshocked over the year i just had. but i also am actively grieving. while also healing. while also repairing. and while also growing. and bursting into a new identity. one that feels foreign and not snug at all. and it’s an adjustment. one that doesn’t happen often.
rebirth. the word i chose as i slammed the door on twenty twenty. it felt good and wise to choose a word that has appeared to me so many times. rebirth. a word that appeared in fever dreams and hallucinations. it appeared often during the biggest fights for my life. in the hospital fighting an infectious disease. as i lay in a pool of my own sweat and tears battling breast cancer this past fall. many might wish for a second chance but it is a lot to handle. it’s scary and more often than not, heartbreaking. because in order to be reborn, the old must die. rebirth. the word that carried me to this point right now.
looks like it’s time to shed some of the old to make way for the rebirth.