Hope. That’s really what this blog is meant to be about. I think sometimes I forget that as I struggle day-to-day with the newness of recurrence and how I am trying to fit it into my life.
Hope is the raft that promises that there’s a shoreline awaiting me after cancer has torn my boat to splinters. It fuels the belief that I will live into my 90s despite the threat of this disease. And that I will be active and healthy until my last day.
Hope drives my optimism that something like a cure lies around the next bend. It may not relieve me of this condition, but it will allow me to live with it.
Hope is what allows me to smile, even when I smell like a refinery from the chemicals injected into my body to defeat those pernicious cells and everything tastes like metal.
Hope allows me to make plans – like running for town council or writing a novel or finishing renovations on our historic home.
Hope reminds me to enjoy the sunshine and focus on the things going right in my life – like making a living as a writer in a small, river town with neighbors who are supportive and friendly, the golden threads woven intricately into the fabric of my life.
Hope has drinks with me at outdoor patios with my family and friends as the sun sets on the river on a Friday night, when I speak giddily about the people I’ve talked to that week, whose story I’m grateful to have been able to tell.
Hope is that quiet voice on the bad days that says “you’ll get through this. You will prevail, no matter what.”
Hope is the belly laugh I have with good friends about days gone by, that at the time seemed dangerous and dark and now, looking back, seem hysterical.
Hope are the neighborhood children who knock on my door wanting to go for a walk with me and my dogs, to make a fire and go for ice cream, reminding me that life is too short not to stop, take time out and enjoy it.
In then end, these forces remain: faith, hope and love. The greatest may be love, but hope is the ship that we sail upon and faith is the wind that fills her sails.
As hard as I try, I can’t go back to who I was. There’s nothing like a bad haircut to remind me of that.
I’ve had short hair since chemo ended, now four years ago. My body rebelled after being doused for months in that chemical wash. My nails and hair particularly made their dissatisfaction known, splitting and breaking and refusing to grow. I tried nail hardener and special shampoos, but the only thing that helped was time. My nails at least have started to grow again and have stopped splitting. My hair, though, remains fine and limp and every so often I panic, sure I have a bald spot. It’s no longer the lush locks I had.
I gave up bangs I’d worn since kindergarten for a side-swept pixie cut when my hair finally started to grow back after chemo. It looked cute and was a departure from the curly, salt and pepper mane that replaced the long, golden hair I’d lost.
Over time, I let it grow in a bit thicker, going for the Robin Wright look in House of Cards. It suited me, even though I never quite felt I recognized the woman looking back from the mirror.
For the first half of this year, I let my hair grow. I found a haircut that looked something like my old look, albeit a shorter version. And it had the bangs I’d forsaken. I was sure it would be the perfect cut for growing it long again.
So today, I went to my hair stylist – who rescued my wigs from over-washing-frizz-out as I cried and talked me in off the ledge of vulnerability during my baldness – and showed her the picture of the new look I wanted. She sized it up, told me I’d need to go a bit shorter in the back, but agreed it could be done.
Except it couldn’t. My bangs no longer sit right on my forehead and the shag layers are flat, making my hair look more like a helmet than tresses. I came home, threw water on it and parted it back on the side, giving it the pixie look I started with four years ago.
Back then, it made me happy. Today, it makes me feel stuck, like the movie Groundhog Day. Every time I think I’m ready to move forward, life takes me back to where I was to start all over again. Whether it’s a cancer recurrence or a starting a new drug treatment or a bad haircut. It’s like a merry-go-round I can’t get off of and there’s no brass ring to grab.
So here I am, back to being a woman I don’t recognize, but no longer having a meltdown over it. Sometimes you walk through a time warp and there’s just no going back. I’m living in such a time.
There’ so much to tell you, so much you won’t be able to listen to. So I’ll start simple. Overwhelmed, right? Don’t worry, that passes. And the things you’re worried about right now? They won’t come to pass. And even if they do, somehow you survive. You make it to become The Changed. And yes, boy is life about to change in ways big and small.
TAKE A DEEP BREATH
Scared, right? It’s OK. Just take a deep breath and a look around you. Start picking out the things you like, the things you’re grateful for. For now, concentrate on that. I have a hunch that when you do, the universe finds a way to send you more of that stuff. And even if I’m wrong, it pulls you through the fear. So just try it.
NOT WHAT YOU’RE THINKING
I know you don’t want to hear this right now, but it’s going to take a lot longer than you think. Sure, you have plans, things to accomplish while in the midst of change. Maybe you will. But there’s a good chance you won’t. When you’re changed, you’ll be OK with that. You’ll find peace in veering off course and the chances and opportunities it brings. With the stories you’ll have to tell because of it. Even the friends you’re likely to make because of it.
THERE’S STILL A LONG WAY TO GO
Will you miss the things you are holding on so tightly to right now? A little. At times, you’ll feel a pang of pain over all you’ve lost. But it’s just a reminder of where you’ve come from and how you’ve learned to let go, not hold so tightly. And that makes you smile, like a rainbow through the raindrops.
It doesn’t matter how you get here: kicking, screaming, ranting, raving or sullen and insolent. You will get here. You will be changed. Forever. And after a spell, you’ll find some gratitude. And then you’ll know you’ve healed.