Thursday, 19 July 2012

Cancer As Part of My Identity

Since November 24, 2011, cancer/lymphoma has been a major part of my life and identity.  For the past eight months it has consumed me physically, emotionally and spiritually.  All three of these areas comprise to make a whole person.  Needless to say, it has changed my physical life but also my thoughts on life.  For the last number of days, I've been wanting to go back to being the person I was before cancer.  I want my "old" identity back without the addendum of cancer.  Currently, lymphoma is always at the back of my mind even if it is subconsciously.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to travel with my husband to Cornwall, Ontario.  He was going to spend the day on the golf course with friends so he dropped me off at my friend's house for the day while he went golfing.  I realize that as I'm meeting friends for the first time since being diagnosed and battling my lymphoma, that there are questions about my journey.  I fully understand my friends' needs to reconnect with me and to share, in person, my journey through the last eight months as part of my relationship with my friends. This helps draw us closer together emotionally and it keeps our friendships current.  I also realize that at some point, I'll be able to move beyond the retelling of my journey with lymphoma and get back to "normal" friendships.  As I visited with my friend yesterday, we did move beyond "the cancer" and we enjoyed sharing about other areas of our lives and mutual friends.

I had the special opportunity to meet up with another dear friend who is a 10 year cancer survivor!  My visit with her was extra special in that we talked about being survivors and what that really means.  On the surface it means we beat the beast called cancer but there is so much more to being a survivor than that.  As I mentioned earlier, I've been wanting to move beyond the cancer and transition back to my identity before cancer.  My survivor friend mentioned that the thought of cancer is always there at the back of your thoughts.  This may not be a conscious thought but it is always there.  It's there in the clarity and vibrancy of moments spent with family and friends.  It's there as we create lifetime memories.  It is there as each day is lived to the fullest.  It's there in the urgency of fulfilling all the activities, trips, family visits and visits with friends that you want to do.  This summer that is what I'm living with.  I have an urgency to do everything that I've put off doing as I waited for me to have the money to do it or the time to do it or the energy to do it.  I'm not putting things off anymore.  This summer I'm doing exactly what I want to do.  My survivor friend indicated that this feeling that life is too short will never go away.  That is what cancer does to you.

I know that I'm very aware of the various symptoms of lymphoma.  I also know that if I feel fatigued, I inwardly question "Is it coming back?!"  If I burp or have any kind of indigestion or bloating after a meal, I wonder "Are the lymph nodes around my stomach getting bigger again?"  When these questions start to plague me, I objectively look at the symptoms and what I've been doing or eating and it all makes sense.  I also know that I'll be seeing my oncologist for regular check ups every three months.  We'll catch anything before it gets growing too big, IF there's anything there to catch.

I think this constant thinking, analyzing and questionning may have been what my survivor friend was talking about when she mentioned that cancer is always in your thoughts.  I won't always be talking about cancer and I want to make sure that I'm not "stuck" and my identity engulfed by cancer.  Yesterday was a great mix of friendship, support, laughter and sharing.  The day went by much too quickly (just like the summer is marching on much too quickly) and it was 9:30 p.m. before my husband and I said our goodbyes to our friends and made the two hour trek home.  This morning I'm tired but I'm ready to take on the day!

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