i have been a chronic worrier since basically the first grade. maybe even earlier than that. honestly, probably since birth. and i have had a therapist since the first grade too. the first one used to tell me that worrying was pointless. which is true. even i know that. he used to talk to me while i sat on a paper covered exam table in the back room of my pediatrician’s office. on wednesdays. and he would draw on the exam table paper. a little devil on one side of me and an angel on the other. and he explained worrying like that. that the devil was the one whispering all kinds of anxious nonsense into my ear. and that i had to consciously choose to turn and listen to the angel. but y’all, here we are some twenty six years later and the devil wins more than i would like to admit. earlier this week, someone asked me about my surgery. the one that was delayed back in november due to abnormal bloodwork. and it’s still on the books. written down for august seventeenth. one hundred and fifty some odd days from now. and thinking about it this week and everything that has happened in the last two years and thinking about how i recently wrote sixteen months in remission and realized that it’s only been thirteen. my brain is beginning to play a game; a favorite past time if you will. it’s this game of what if. you know it. i know y’all do. the one where you place the words ‘what if’ in front of all of your fears and worries. irrational or not. and right now, my what ifs go a little like this – what if the surgery still doesn’t happen. or what if the doctor cancels it. what if it can’t happen because of my bloodwork and my surgeon drops me as a patient. or what if the surgery happens. and what if the results are awful. or maybe what if the results still don’t make me feel whole. what if the scars that i see every single day, are the scars that i will be forced to look at forever. what if my scars never fade. what if they can’t be erased with a laser. or oh my gosh, new what if. what if the laser makes them look worse. see?! this is where i am two years into healing. tormented by the what ifs. and sure, sure, i could just think about the drawings on the exam room table. push my brain back to nineteen ninety six. i could kindly ask myself to push pause on the record of what ifs. but what has to be understood is that my real life fears have already come to life. what if i catch this infectious disease that’s killing millions? oh wait, done. check it off the list. what if i am one of the eight women who receive a breast cancer diagnosis? oof. also done. check! what if the surgery leaves me feeling like a whole part of me is missing? yea, that’s where i have been since last february. and sure, it’s been a string of bad luck. back to back. and lots of people like to remind me that it’s over. and in some ways, it is. but in other ways, the remnants have been hard to send off. and i try really, really hard to find the rainbows after the helluva rain storm that i just walked through. but i am also in this place. you know the place. where my body feels like it doesn’t belong to me. and maybe you don’t know the place. but maybe you get what i am saying. that the scars to me don’t hold power or strength. they hold sadness. they hold something broken. they are reminders. and not good ones. they don’t remind me of the moments i was strong. they remind me of all the times that was the only choice. to be strong. they don’t remind me that i fought like hell. they just remind me of the ugliest battles. and they also feel shameful. all of it kinda does. that maybe if i had done everything differently, it would never have been like this. that maybe if i wasn’t fat or if i ran a mile every day. if i talked on the phone less or didn’t drink diet soda. maybe if i asked for turkey bacon or ate a salad every once in a while. if i didn’t sleep with my cell phone under my pillow. or if i cured my childhood asthma. if i took less advil and used less hairspray. see – there’s that game again.
there’s a lot of guilt and shame with survivorship. some that stems from watching other people battle for longer. or saying goodbye to those whose battle was too much. the guilt also comes from being a young survivor. and feeling guilty for receiving the diagnosis in the first place. the guilt that we put on ourselves for asking others to stop where they are while you battle. and the inconvenience and burden you feel in the beginning, middle, end and forever in survivorship. and people tell me it’s okay all the time. and it is okay. it’s okay that these are the things that live in my brain. it’s okay that survivorship isn’t perfect. it’s okay that the what ifs block out the clear skies. it’s okay that the what ifs exist at all. the number one thing my therapist says to me every single week is that we have to acknowledge the thoughts. it has to be acknowledged. whatever it is. shame. guilt. worry. fear. defeat. trauma. whatever it is. it has to be acknowledged. because if we shove it deep down into the pits of our soul and swear to never let it see the light of day – the next time we open the lid to shove something else deep down, it’ll come bubbling up. and while i can’t seem to nail the devil versus angel exam table drawing down to a science; it does live in the back of my mind all these years later. but what my very first og therapist never said to me was to acknowledge the devil. acknowledge the worry. acknowledge the fear. it’s always been ignore. it’s always been move on. it’s always been forget about it. it’s silly, alix. that’s crazy. just think about something else. oof. didn’t age well right? because here i am. thirty three years old and navigating the immensely challenging world of survivorship. and the eighty five thousand different emotions that i cycle through every day. and it’s ugly and messy. and it’s allowed to be ugly and messy. and it has to be safely acknowledged by everyone. it has to feel safe to exist like this right now. my what ifs are the deepest fears to ever exist. they are what sit at the core of it all. in these last two years, i have been brave. i have suffered silently. i have lost myself entirely. i have rebuilt my body. i have picked up the shattered pieces of my marriage; broken and splintered by trauma and isolation. over the last two years, i have navigated new normals over and over again. and now, my greatest fear is that this final surgery – the surgery to make it all come together – might not cure my whole body desire to feel complete. and if it doesn’t, where does that leave me?
sometimes it feels like square one and i are the best of friends. i feel like i get all the way to a pivotal part of healing and a massive hole appears in my path. a new diversion. another detour. people ask me all the time if i would rather have the chemo hard or the treatment hard or the surgery hard or what i have now. as if any of them are comparable. suffering hard or healing hard. both are hard. both take so much energy. both changed me. and perhaps my tolerance for bullshit is much lower these days; but i just can’t even tell you how much it hurts to miss who you were. and how much it hurts to become what the universe gave you. sometimes it feels like a flower blooming in pure sunshine. and some days, my petals feel soggy from the rain. my what ifs feel heavier than usual. i think it’s because of the weight survivorship holds. i think the what ifs are all we know. the anxiety becomes this hobby and obsession when you’re fighting for your life every single day. and when some of your huge what ifs actually happen, it’s hard to feel like the whole world won’t turn its back on you someday. and as a person who literally hates change, this phase of healing and survivorship is even harder. because everything is different. my hair, my skin, my clothes. my relationships, my brain, my abilities. my anxiety, my body, my tolerances. my fears, my hopes, my heart. my medicines, my teeth, my vision. my nerves, my chest, my emotions. nothing was ever the same. and yeah, that keeps me up some nights. and so do the what ifs. and the nightmares. and the flashbacks to a cold chemo clinic chair. and the night my hair fell out for the first time. and the times i sobbed on the floor of my shower. or the nights i cried myself to sleep.
what if it takes a lifetime to forget. what if it’s hard like this all the time. what if it gets easier. little by little. what if everything i need is already inside me. what if i can do it; one grain at a time. what if survivorship was waiting for me.
maybe it was. what if it’s okay, to just be here. what if that’s true.
maybe it is. xoxo.