I am by nature not one to entertain depressive thoughts, at least not for long. I have always felt that the best anti-depressant is action. So, when I was diagnosed with cancer over a year ago- I began to do an enormous amount of researching. I made compulsive lists of things to prepare for each treatment. I rearranged my bedroom anticipating the need for a comfortable place to heal. I bought art supplies preparing to meet trauma head on with prismacolors and permanent markers. I also found support groups, both in my community and online. Breastcancer.org has online forums organized around types of treatment, receptor status, stage, question, etc. I joined a group of women who all started chemotherapy at the same time.
I can not overstate the importance of these women in my life. Anytime I had a question, I would post it and find answers. They would validate the crazy feelings that were at times overwhelming and help me feel sane again. (I typed many a post while sobbing). They would offer support and make me laugh at the absurdity of our situation. And when so many of my "real" friends all but disappeared, they were there and ready to offer me a big virtual hug whenever I needed it.
At one point, when things were super rough, one of the women comforted another woman with a promise... that next year, we would meet in Vegas. Exactly one year from the month that we began chemotherapy, fifteen of us packed our bags, boarded planes from all over North America and Canada and met in Las Vegas, Nevada for a long weekend.
I wondered on the flight what it would be like to meet these women. Would it feel awkward? Would I have things in common with them aside from cancer? Would they understand my weird sense of humor? Any fear I had was quickly put to rest. These women were amazing - and I felt so proud to be in their company. We talked about how our club had the worst initiation rites of any club we had ever heard of. In many ways, I was shocked at how much it felt like I had always known these women. But, I guess it makes sense. We have shared a traumatic history and through that, our friendship has intensified in ways that most can't understand.
I also felt, for the first time in over a year, normal. I was surrounded by fourteen other women who understood. I laughed when one of my friends tried to play the cancer card to get an upgrade at the rental car counter. I showed my scars without feeling I would need to take care of the other person's reaction. I could talk about cancer without worrying that I was boring or too self indulgent. I felt like I could breathe- and I am beyond happy that I went. I am looking forward to meeting again next year.
Coming back home was difficult. So much of the trauma of the last year has left me anxious and broken - and yet I often feel that there isn't time or space to really co-exist with those feelings. I instead find ways to pretend that they don't exist. Last week on Wednesday, I became emotionally overwhelmed. I had no idea what triggered the feelings. I thought perhaps it was all of the emotions of this past month - the death of Zinn, my amazing trip... It wasn't until Saturday that I realized that it was exactly one year ago on Thursday that I had my first chemotherapy infusion. Although I may try to repress these feelings, my psyche has not forgotten.