a way out.

i wrote a good chunk of this blog post in my head and out loud to myself as i drove into the city of baltimore last week. two days in a row actually. and while baltimore means more to me now than it ever has; it’s still one of the most triggering drives. i was diagnosed with stage zero breast cancer over the phone last august. i was sitting cross legged on my queen size mattress at one o’clock in the afternoon. ten days later, it had morphed to stage two. and i began looking for a second opinion. the idea of seeking treatment in the city just frazzled me. traffic and parking and winter and snow and not accessible via ambulance from my parents house. a fifty five minute commute every time someone wanted to poke me or examine me or lay eyes on me. but i caved and said yes to the best medical team along the coast. making that decision felt huge. and all the decisions that came after that one. they were also immense. filled to the brim with heaviness. sometimes guilt. sometimes sadness. sometimes regret. and one of the hardest parts of being here, ten months in remission is allowing yourself to be okay. to be okay right here. in this moment. in this space. because the rug has been pulled out a few too many times. there have been way too many inconveniences. way too many appointments and doctors. surgeries and brave moments. i have been called a hero more in the last year of my life than all the years stacked together.

and sometimes i think people want me to feel like the rug can’t possibly go anywhere ever again. for sure. by now i must’ve stapled it to the ground. no, super glued it. no, cemented it. but my life has never been simple. it’s a comedy show at this point. just the amount of times the rug has been pulled. the amount of times it’s been a big ass rug, time and time and time again. and honestly, it’s fine. i truly believe that perhaps i was created for all the moments that have happened and will happen. and not in some like weird, superstitious kinda way. but just in a like i have survived all of these moments. all of these big, terrible and heartbreaking moments. i was created for them. i survived them. i made it through them. and i made it to this really weird, almost post-apocalyptic place called survivorship. and i know, calling it that probably seems weird. but it fits, i promise. it’s this really lonely place. like realllllly lonely. no doctors or appointments. no one checking on you. no one getting a pulse on how your brain might be feeling or if your heart is healing. it’s very much giving me ‘take care of yourself’ vibes and that’s cool. like that’s okay with me. it’s just that it’s a lot for me. to navigate it all. and sure, as i lay here in my bed fighting the insomnia episode twenty seven while my husband snores as loudly as humanly possible next to me- i know that i have come a long way from my march twenty twenty days. those days were laced with absolute terror and fear and trauma and loneliness. and death. death just sat there quietly the whole damn time. and for some reason, i slipped past her twice. and i have come far from those early days after the virus. the days where i walked half a mile twice a day in the frigid spring air. forty two days locked in a room. that feeling of leprosy has scarred me for life. where the people i loved and knew would only wave to me from a window or on a facetime call. it shattered me. wrecked me. to feel untouchable. to feel unlovable in those moments. because having cancer just four months after fighting for my life in an intensive care unit lends itself to similar vibes. the untouchable. the unlovable. it sinks me into this place where i can’t be loved as this person that i am. but yet, i have come so far. and my therapist said to me last thursday that i found a way out. and i asked her what she meant by that. and she simply said- the darkness. you found a way out. and i laughed. not loudly or in a way that made it seem silly. but just in the sense that, well yeah sure. a way out. of the big darkness. the one that was pitch black and covered me. that one. it felt like it was dark for so long. and even now, there are dark days. dark moments. not in a like call the psych ward kind of way. but just in general. ones that get blanketed in sadness or grief. those weird down days. that sift in and out of my life.

earlier this week i had what i call and label as a sad day. a bad body day. that’s what i say to my husband to describe it. i will just sit on my bed and cry. and he will wrap his arms around me and kiss my temple and i will whisper- ‘it’s a bad body day’. and he will nod and say ‘i am sorry. it’s okay.’ because finding a way out doesn’t mean the world is always kind. it doesn’t mean that the lemons aren’t thrown. it doesn’t mean that the rug doesn’t get pulled out from under me. i guess it just means i found a way out of the deepest, darkest, ugliest parts. and i have managed to stay out. through all of it. through the chemotherapy and the amputation of my breasts and the surgery to reconstruct them. and the sixteen brutal weeks of healing. and the ends of decade long friendships. and the meltdowns on my closet floor when none of my clothes fit. i managed to stay out through the rebuilding of my desecrated marriage. the one that was shredded to pieces by medical trauma. stayed out of it through a year of dissertation work. and the loss of three friends to the same heinous disease. stayed out of it as i returned to work. in a still raging pandemic. through the delta variant. and now omicron. stayed out of it through a major surgical setback and a new diagnosis. through new weekly injections in the abdomen and a nine month wait list. the bad days; well they still find their way back to me. and this week was filled with one of those days where none of my clothes fit and i ate cookies at my desk and i had to run to the grocery store after work and there is this fear that radiates through me. the fear that the way i feel about my body after cancer is the way everyone feels about my body after cancer. and it just comes from the months and months i have spent working on finding a way out. and here we are; climbing the hill towards one year in remission. one year out from chemotherapy. with clear scans from last week. and sometimes it feels like the light ahead is for me. that the way out; the true way out is just ahead. because i have come a long way. not just from march twenty twenty to now. but in general, i guess. a few days ago, a memory popped up on my social media timeline. it was a blog post from twenty nineteen where i congratulated myself on reaching eighteen months in my journey of self discovery. and wow, it feels a little ironic that my self discovery was barely palpable then compared to now. if only that version knew this version. what a story that would be. and i keep reminding myself that even if no one else can see it; i have come a long way. i haven’t found the full way out. but i have cleared the path so far. it’s been ugly and messy. it’s been sad and it’s been lonely. it’s been filled with big decisions and it’s also been filled with moments that have broken me into the smallest parts. but in finding the paths that lead out, i have also learned to cope with the darkness. when it sneaks back in and nestles amongst me. i have learned what triggers me and what rattles my trauma filled core. and even though i am still working through the accepting phase of my body; i know that will be part of finding the way out also. sometimes finding a way out means going back in and facing the demons head on. sometimes finding a way out isn’t always easy or quick or painless. sometimes finding a way out means losing yourself in the process. which is painful and grief filled. it’s the abandonment of yourself. in the most intimate and heart wrenching way. to shed yourself on your way out. to ask yourself to stay behind. so that you can find your way out. it’s one of most intense emotional experiences you could ever imagine.

finding a way out. that’s what my therapist said to me. you’ve found a way out, alix. she’s one of the few people who call me that. you’ve found a way out, she said. and i nodded. and i said, ‘i am trying.’ that’s all you can do. every day. working to find your way out. fully and completely. but there’s no rush. it’s okay to be here. wherever that is for you. for me; it’s this place that lies humbly between grief and gratitude. halfway in and halfway out.

and i think i might be here for a bit. and that’s okay. i have come a long way. resting for a while on my way out.


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