It hasn’t even been confirmed yet that I’m stopping chemotherapy. But my mind is already moving ahead. And I feel feel like I’m already starting to lose the lessons that cancer taught me.
There is enormous clarity that comes in the face of this kind of diagnosis.
It focused my mind and energy on what is really important.
It put me in touch with my body in a whole new way, and forced me to make caring for it a priority. (Whereas otherwise, it would always come last after work, the people I care about, and everything else.)
It gave me new inspiration and ideas.
Funnily enough, more difficult things were with my health, and the worse I felt, the easier it was to identify what really mattered.
For me, the list looked like this:
Number one: staying alive. Doing whatever that entailed.
A bit more energy? Connecting with and caring for Rosie.
A bit more than that? Connecting with my husband, my family, and the other people I care about.
Still a bit more energy? Making room for the creative projects or thoughts that make me come alive.
Still a little reserve? Keeping things ticking over with the daily tasks of life – a bit of a putter, tidy up, cooking some food, etc.
Throughout my treatment, getting a bit of energy or feeling well has been such a breath of fresh air. I’ve been so thrilled and grateful to have days that allowed me to do more than the bare minimum.
But also, the more energy I have, the more difficult I’ve found it to make the choices about what’s really important.
During this journey, I have felt my priorities shifting in important ways. I’m not sure I can even articulate these for myself yet. But the seedlings that have been been taking root most powerfully in my heart have to do with the value of community and caring for one another; the importance of appreciating and embracing the fact that we live in physical bodies; the value of enjoying the minutiae and routine tasks that keep life running rather than rushing through these as a hindrance.
I’ve also felt an internal rebalancing of the work and creative projects that feel most important to me. Some things that seemed critical are taking more of a backseat, as new directions and possibilities have captured my imagination. Others have retained their importance, but taken an interesting new angle. I sense that I might be at the beginning of a shift in my definitions of success – with this coming more from within, and being a bit less determined by external markers.
Still, as I face the end of this treatment chapter, I feel a bit like a rubber band.
Part of me wants to snap back to my former life – my ‘normal’ life and pretend none of this happened.
Which is great in some ways. There were many wonderful things about that life.
But I also risk losing some of the things I discovered during this time, which have enriched my life immeasurably.
Old habits and former patterns are asserting their presence and calling out to be revived. And I’m not sure I entirely want them back.
Yesterday and today, I have felt shadowed by what I like to think of as ‘to-do list’ anxiety. The tasks that call out to be done, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘coulds’ that clutter our minds in ways that feel both essential and inescapable. It’s the tightening in the chest that makes us feel like we are falling behind, and makes us feel powerful in our own lives in the face of a sea of activity that can never be complete.
In treatment, I found times where I escaped these feelings – probably for the first time in my life. While there were plenty of times I felt guilty for having such a diminished capacity, I also had freeing moments where I had to let go of these things because it was a physical impossibility for me to do anything about them. Which often made me sad, but was also incredibly freeing.
There were times this let me be so much more present, accepting and open. That is something I’d quite like to keep.
In discussing cancer recovery, people and pamphlets alike often talk about a ‘new normal.’ Previously, this has always sounded to me like a slightly negative thing: that you can’t have what you had before, so it’s settling for what works.
Yet now that I’m facing the beginning of this transition, a ‘new normal’ actually feels incredibly positive and enticing. That’s what I want. A life built around the lessons I’ve learned during this process, but woven in with the threads that existed beforehand.
Here’s what it looks like right now working towards this:
I’m reminding myself these chemotherapy drugs are still active in my body.
I’m trying to embrace the process or resuming more daily activities as a gradual process.
More than anything, I’m trying to keep hold of the clarity I had in the most difficult moments.
Knowing that I only had limited time and energy was incredible for escaping ‘to-do list’ anxiety.
Now that I have a bit more energy, I want to keep hold of that, and to find new ways of connecting to these core feelings.
I know deep down that unless I make a conscious decision to do this, my old life will swallow me back up.
Slowly, slowly – I have to choose to build my new normal, discovering its new shape, one puzzle piece at a time.