these past few weeks have been a lot. i can’t find another word to use other than the word a lot. and honestly, i knew that would be the case and i knew what i was walking into. but alas, these past few weeks have been a lot. and i can’t put my finger on just one thing because there are too many to count. things have been triggering lately. between the recurrence scare of late september and the weekly virus swabs; it’s just a lot. and more recently, i have been feeling this shift. a notable one that holds space between the befores and afters. i find myself in a place where the before cancer parts of my life aren’t carrying over to my after cancer life. and it’s slightly exhausting and frustrating but also kinda heartbreaking. and yeah, it’s been seven months into this new life. and some might say the tides have shifted and the moons have changed phases so why haven’t you? but maybe that’s what needs to be said and understood. if someone is feeling something, that’s okay. that’s their truth. that’s their right. and so lately, it’s been feeling like people around me are trying to shove me into the after. and bury the before. and never talk about the before. but also never complain about the after. but it has to be understood. that even seven months later, it still feels unfair. and i guess one of my biggest struggles is feeling like i can’t be heard in this space. that every time my broken heart shifts to comparing the before and after, there is someone standing there reminding me to be grateful to be alive. or that at least my cancer is gone. or that other people are suffering so much more. and all that does is squash everything deep down inside me. it hits this shameful part of my core. where i feel unsafe sharing what scares me or breaks me or keeps me up at night. and that feels just as unfair as having cancer in the first place. because something shifted during this whole experience and hear me out because i know it probably sounds crazy but it’s true. something shifted. and i began to realize that i am worth so much more than those who dismiss me. i am worth so much more than those that clap back at me with some comparative suffering bullshit. i have the right and privilege to feel. just in general, feel all of the things that course through my brain, heart and body. because the befores are gone but not forgotten. and the afters are an adjustment. and the grief and sadness and the inability to find yourself in that space in the afters; that’s enough to break your spirit.
and in my next life when i release my grammy award winning mix tape, it will have a hit song featuring these lyrics: i can be sad and i can be grateful at the same time. i can feel both of those things at the same time. say it louder for those who are standing in the back not paying attention. my hit mix tape, okay. i can do both. i can stand here looking at the before and after and be overwhelmed by the grief. i can stand here and be grateful to be alive. but i can also stand here and wonder why it all happened to me and why this was chosen for me. because there are many, many days where i don’t believe i am capable of handling the afters. and many days when i miss parts of the befores. there are bits of who i was that couldn’t stay tacked to my side after entering survivorship. parts of my life that couldn’t carry over to this place. people who didn’t earn the privilege of friendship after the war was won. and in all of those befores, grief was hidden. and what i mean is that parting ways with things that have been in your life and mark your skin and seal your identity; those things aren’t easy to slip away from. this loss means the search for new identity and new beginnings. it’s the hard goodbyes to those who just couldn’t hang. the befores and the afters. i wish it could be understood that hardship isn’t forever; and i know that. but hardship and trauma and grief are impactful. they mark your life forever and take the befores and create new and different afters. and that is what hurts, even after the big hurt is over. it’s recognizing that who you once were can no longer exist. and i think that’s a really big deal. maybe not for others but definitely for me. and maybe it doesn’t seem like a big deal, from the outside looking in. but each day presents itself with some part of the before and lots of the afters.
and here i am; gracefully twirling somewhere in between. desperately clinging to some of my favorite befores. and dreading some of the forever afters. and the outside world is shouting at me; to move on, to be grateful, to be happy. and in this place of afters, there can be both. swimming in befores that have shifted. crawling through afters that linger. with scars that remind me of the battles behind me. and maybe it’s not me. maybe it’s everyone else. the ones who don’t understand that a broken heart doesn’t heal overnight. and this is a broken heart. not a fully healed one. one that was fragile after fighting for my life against an infectious disease. and split in half when i was diagnosed with cancer, sitting in the middle of my bed on a tuesday. slowly disintegrated into shards when a friendship of twenty years fell apart in less than a dozen text messages. noting how draining and burdening my cancer journey would be. mingling with treatments and appointments and my job on hold. missing a whole school year with my students. halting my dissertation progress. and i absolutely loathe when people ladle toxic positivity onto me. when people tell me i had cancer at the right time. or that i caught it before it was bad. or that at least i got new boobs. go away. and never say that again. to me or anyone else. because before i had cancer, i had a head of hair and could stay up past nine thirty. my before held me in my career and in control of my narrative. i felt warm and safe in myself. and the afters, well it’s not like that at all. it’s cold and stale. harsh and uneven. the scars are prickly and bumpy. the fatigue can be so thick some days. my hair is growing. soft and thick but slow. and it’s dry. and none of my clothes fit me. and the old me doesn’t fit me. and the afters are here. to stay.
and the grieving process carries on. and it’s okay. to be here. to want what i had, held tightly in my hand for thirty years. it’s okay to want that. to miss that. to ache for that. it’s okay to have a broken heart over the moments that broke me. shattered me. scarred me. damaged me. it’s okay to cry over a friendship that felt like the glue holding me together for quite sometime. it’s okay to be angry that the world didn’t stop while i was sick. it’s okay to catch a tear when memories on social media show the befores. it’s more than okay to be mad at the things that are different. forever different. forever changed. that trauma and heartbreak brought and never bothered to pick them up.
between the before and the after; an entire person was saved. wading through the toughest currents and trudging uphill the entire way. between the befores and afters, an entire girl was stripped of who she was. losing the final strands of an identity molded over thirty years. between the befores and afters, heartbreak and trauma and gaslighting lay. tangled as the rebirth of a warrior begins.
what happened between the befores and afters created what i am. right now. strong but sad. broken but beautiful. tired but resilient. a warrior. silently missing what is gone while grateful for what is here. both can exist. the befores and afters can’t.
and soon, these will be the forevers instead.