This morning I woke up slowly, giving my muscles and tendons time to snap open and stretch and work out the toxins accumulated from the chemotherapy pills I took the night before. I soaked some dishes from the previous evening’s dinner in the sink before making coffee in my french press and microwaving a bowl of 1-minute oatmeal (almond mild, cinnamon and agave—always the same). I ate my breakfast while flipping through a magazine (I test myself with the ‘Who wore it better” section of US Weekly, covering up the percentages of how other people voted and seeing if I get it “correct”… small pleasures, right?).
I can usually make it this far before the anxiety sets in. Because now that I have gotten the small stuff out of the way I am faced with the task of, What next? Because while I am better, I am still not well; with each incremental improvement of physical well-being comes a much bigger jump in the expectations I have for myself about what I should do and who I should be.
There is a fear that comes when you think you are going to die. When I was diagnosed with lymphoma and went through my initial intensive treatment, and then more recently when I thought I had relapsed, I faced this fear intimately. I truly felt ready to die—as ready as one can be for that sort of thing, I suppose—if that’s what fate had in store for me.
When I got my clean PET scan results back a few months ago, and learned I had not, in fact, relapsed, the euphoria was immediate. I was going to make it! After this long, the chance of relapse is small; I felt the joy of believing cancer was not going to be what killed me.
But then there was a correction. Because nature abhors a vacuum, and the universe seeks homeostasis, and what has become unbalanced must be rebalanced.
While I had faced the fear of death and stood up to it, there was a new kind of fear I had yet to meet—the fear of life. There is a fear you feel when you think you’re going to die, but there is a different, almost more terrifying kind of fear you feel when you realize, after experiencing a traumatic event, that you’re going to live. Now I had to confront the proposition of having to piece my life back together, of needing to deal with all the petty annoyances of living, of re-learning how to not just get through the day, but plan for the future. Questions like, How will I work? How will I take care of myself? Who will love me?
The questions are so encompassing and they loom over me so largely that, for now, I consider them only briefly before I reorient myself back to the moment. Because there is laundry to do and bills to pay and doctors appointments I need to get to, and now it’s been a few hours so I need to start thinking about lunch. There’s an avocado in the fridge that will go bad soon so maybe I’ll make a quesadilla. But my body hurts and my soul is tired, so for a moment I’ll just put my hand over my heart and breathe.