Friday, July 19, 2013

Finding normal

"And once the storm is over, you won't remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive.  You won't even be sure whether the storm is really over.  
But one thing is certain, when you come out of the storm, you won't be the same person who walked in.  
That's what the storm is all about."  - Haruki Murikami 

Normal is such an interesting word.  What is normal for one person might feel completely absurd to another.  As a therapist, I understand that "normal" is subjective.  Everything from culture, time, and individual experience can color our perception of what is "normal".  And sometimes what we think is normal, can often be anything but normal when we are given some space to truly process it.  I have been wrestling with normality for the last couple of weeks...

I tried to think of a metaphor that would make sense for me.  I think some people might think of cancer as a train that is derailed... and that somehow after treatment, the train is placed back on its track and is asked to move forward in the direction it was going before the unlucky accident.  This just doesn't seem correct for me.   I feel like a kidnapping makes more sense.  One day you are just living your life and this sadistic maniac named cancer comes and kidnaps you.  All of the things you were concerned about prior to cancer are immediately placed in the low priority category.  You do what you can in those moments to survive.  You focus on blood counts, treatment options, and recurrence rates.  You are faced with mortality on a daily basis.  You meet other kidnapping victims, finding comfort in someone who shares this experience and you plot together how you might escape. And cancer doesn't just kidnap you alone.  It takes your whole family.

And then one day you are released.  Back to your old life.  After ten months of captivity.  But you are lost.  You aren't even sure about the direction you are supposed to be going.  And you are surrounded by people who don't understand.  They think they do.  But they don't.  They can't. Their conversations feel foreign to you.  In reality you are not really free.  You understand that cancer is lurking... and could decide in a moment to kidnap you again.  Maybe that is why I have this urge to move far way from where I am now.  Maybe then cancer won't find me or my family.  I am a trauma survivor.

There was an article I read in the New York Times recently about anxiety and cancer survivors.  It resonated with me.  I know that I have a lot of work to do to become comfortable with my new life... and even though cancer may linger in the background, I have to learn to shift my focus around the room to see all of the other things in the room aside from cancer.  I need to replace fear based decision making with decision making that focuses on what I desire in this life for myself and my family.    Although I know if I pack up the car and move across the country, cancer will move with me - I also know that finding ways to work less, be near family, and have more space for art and fun are the healthy options for me.  

There is another article about post traumatic growth, which is defined as "positive changes experienced as a result of the struggle with a major life crisis or traumatic event."  The notion that with trauma also comes ways in which our life is enriched.  Perhaps we become clear about our values.  We no longer want to postpone happiness.  I am definitely moving in this direction - but it will take time.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Moving forward

I haven't written in a couple of weeks.  Radiation was exhausting, and I feel like it has taken me a good month to get my energy back.  On top of this, the family went on a much needed vacation to Santa Fe.  We stopped off at the Grand Canyon - where I hoped to check in with the universe:  share all that I was grateful for, shed some tears about the last year,- but at 108 degrees, it was just too hot.  I did take some nice pictures and enjoyed my family.

Eleven months ago, I found out I had cancer.  Ten months ago, I said goodbye to  co-workers and took time off from work to focus on healing.  I knew that cancer treatment was going to leave me with limited energy.  I wanted to spend the little energy that I had on my family and my spirit.  I feel like all in all, I did a very good job of taking care of myself.  I have been present with the emotional reality but also allowed myself to laugh and stay grateful.  One of the most challenging parts of having cancer was the thing I hadn't even considered - how it would impact my relationships.  Some relationships have become stronger.  Others have almost disappeared.  I read a wonderful article on just this thing yesterday and thought I would share it here.  Someone in my support group the other day said that she has been able to find ways to become friends again with some of those that she lost.  At this point, that seems unimaginable... but I guess only time will tell.  I know I don't want to hold on to being angry.  Not for anyone else -but for myself.  Anger and hurt can feel like poison.  But I am struggling with this. Maybe it is just too soon.

On Monday, I started back to work.  It felt awkward... but how would it not.  I think there are ways in which many of us live our lives in a state of denial - like we are sleeping.  We think we have unlimited time to make our lives what we want them to be.  We have amazing dreams but put them aside as impossibility.  We think we are fine just existing in situations that no longer feel fulfilling because we are fearful of change or think it could be worse.  For many people they live their whole life this way... and then it is over.  Some of us are lucky enough that something happens.  We get shaken out of this sleepy state and are forced to look at the stark reality of what it means to be human.  Our lives are finite.  Postponing happiness creates sadness in the present.   Cancer has given me the gift of clarity ... and I hope that I never fall back to sleep.

Treatment is by no means over for me.  I still have infusions and surgeries and doctor's appointments... but life is returning to normal.  I just hope that I can find a way to create a new more wonderful normal than I ever had before.