I am riding the Second Wave.
The Second Wave is when, months after your diagnosis, you feel like you’re being told you have cancer all over again, because you never really heard it the first time.
I’m writing a column for an online magazine about my experience with cancer, and a few weeks ago I was working on an article about deciding to start chemotherapy ASAP versus wait two weeks to preserve my fertility (the column hasn’t been published yet, but I’ll let you know as soon as it goes live).
As I started writing, I realized there was much I didn’t remember about that day in the hospital or the decision process. I know I got a tremendous amount of bad news on one day, and that it was very upsetting, but the details of who said what and the gravity of my emotions were big empty spaces in my mind.
So I called my mom. I told her I was writing the article. I asked her, “Hey mom, what do you remember about all that?”
I heard her sigh on the other end of the line. “You don’t remember?” she said. “Oh, Elana…”
The story she told me was so crushing that I couldn’t believe I didn’t remember it, although I thanked my mind for protecting me from pain I clearly could not have dealt with at the time.
She told me how at first I didn’t understand what the doctor meant when he said I would be infertile, and he had to say it again, and when he left the room I started sobbing uncontrollably, and could not be consoled, and even though it seemed like I was given a choice, there really was no choice because we all knew if I waited two weeks to start treatment it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that I could die.
As I listened to my mom, I felt so bad for the girl she was talking about in her story. That girl had no idea how bad things were. She didn’t know how much worse they would get.
In many ways I am just realizing now the gravity of my situation. The dust has settled, my routine is more stable, and there is time and mental space to realize what is happening to me.
There is no possible way I could have taken in the weight of my diagnosis when it first happened, so the “taking in” seems to be happening now.
I have cancer? Is this real? Why is this happening?
Where did my hair go? Where did my life go?
This is the Second Wave.
Photo by Tony Hisgett