I’m on the long road home.
The long road home is knowing the worst is behind me, but that the most is in front of me. I am thrilled to be in remission as of two weeks ago, but still have nine months of intensive outpatient chemo left, and then two years of less intensive maintenance chemo.
On the long road home it’s hard to remember there was a time having cancer didn’t consume my life, even though I was diagnosed only a few months ago. Likewise, it’s hard to imagine a future absent of constant doctor’s appointments, side effects, exhaustion, baldness, flabby butt syndrome, transfusions, etc.
In a strange way I have never lived more in the present moment than I am right now. In this same way, it is difficult to find solace in my knowledge that this will all someday be over, because both the future and past are concepts that seem abstract, theoretical.
On the long road home I realize that even if and when they say I’m cured (after a certain number of negative PET scans), and I get to move on with my life, I will never be the same. Something happened that has put me on a different path than I imagined for myself. From the smaller things (how long will it take to grow back my long hair?) to the bigger things (will I be able to have children after all this chemo?) I remember there is much I have lost. There is more I might still lose.
On the long road home I forget who I was before this all happened, who I might be when it’s all over. The other day I was walking around UCLA campus and saw a former attending of mine. I went to wave hello but noticed she was looking right through me, as if she didn’t recognize me. I don’t look like myself, and I don’t feel like myself. Who am I?
The long road home is a marathon, not a sprint. It is not glamorous or exciting. I get tired sometimes and want to quit. I imagine how much is in front of me and wonder if I can do it.
Last night I woke up at 3am and couldn’t fall back asleep (this happens often—something about the medications messes with my circadian rhythm). I looked over at my boyfriend, Peter, wrapped my arms around him, and kissed him on the cheek. In an adorable, half-asleep sort of way, he tried to kiss me back but missed and hit the air. Besides being completely endearing, this moment made me remember, Life is precious.
I realize this in those “in between” moments, when that Bruce Springsteen song I love comes on in the car, when the sky lights up at dusk, when I get a Get Well card in the mail and remember that people care about me, when I’m walking to my doctor’s appointment and catch the faint scent of the ocean, which I miss so much.
Life is precious, even when it’s imperfect, painful, and sad. Especially when it’s imperfect, painful, and sad.
I can’t have the life back that I imagined for myself before I was diagnosed, but perhaps I’ll have a new life that will be even brighter.
I’m on the road. I have to keep walking. There is no other choice, because I want to live. I want to go home.
Photo by Ivan McClellen