I just got my third annual MRI results, and, thank goodness, they were completely normal.
It always takes a few minutes for the news to sink in. I hang up the phone. I text Jesse and my family right away. And then the tears gently start to fall. And then not so gently.
I was sitting at my table, silently crying and smiling. But there was something there this time, something I likely felt the first two times too but perhaps didn’t know how to recognize or what to do with it if I did, so I just ignored it. There was a sadness behind my smile, and slowly my happy tears turned to grief.
I think that’s the best word for it. It’s something a little different than just sad; there is an element of mourning here too. Don’t get me wrong, I am incredibly happy that the results are what they are, that I can live another year with a little less fear than the one before.
So why am I sad?
The answer is, I don’t know for sure. Emotions are funny things. They pop up, seemingly out of nowhere, with no explanation for why they are where they are. Sometimes the reason is obvious to us, but often times it’s not. And I find with cancer that it most often is not.
But I can search and explore and plumb my depths, and writing helps with that, so here goes.
The initial reaction is relief, a weight being lifted. I don’t think I ever really notice how much waiting on my results is weighing on me until I hear them and I am palpably lighter. It’s not just a figure of speech; it literally feels like I’m lighter this minute than I was an hour ago.
Then those odd twinges of sadness. For me, I think they have their roots in a few different places. There is often an element of mourning that comes after cancer. Once the craziness of treatment subsides and you are trying to “get back to normal”, you realize that nothing can go back to the way it was before and that you have to find a new normal. There is a sense of loss and mourning for the life that you had that will never be quite as it was again. You also mourn the life you would have had without cancer that now will never be. I think part of the sadness I’m feeling comes from that place.
I think another big part of that sadness comes from the resentment and anger and upset at having to go through this process regularly. Today it’s great news, but next year will come again, more quickly than expected I’m sure, and I will have to go through all of this again. The anxiety and fear that builds as the scan approaches, the scan itself with its PTSD-inducing trip to the hospital, waiting for the follow up call or appointment, hearing the news. And of course, you have maybe a second or two of feeling great before the fear reminds you that next year it might not be good news. It sucks and I hate it.
And then there is the guilt. I have met so many wonderful, amazing, strong, and inspiring people over the last two and a half years, many who have gone through or are still going through worse than I and who are somehow, in spite of it all, still some of the happiest, most positive, joyful, life-loving people I have ever met (I suspect it’s partly because of cancer that they are this way actually). I remember being in Colorado in August 2018 on a climbing trip with First Descents who run outdoor adventure trips free of charge for young adult cancer survivors (check them out if you haven’t already). I remember looking around the room and it struck me that I was probably going to have to get used to losing friends more rapidly than others my age. When you meet your amazing new friends because of cancer, it’s more likely that you will lose them because of it too. Three is the count for this year, and there are so many more who are fighting recurrences. Sometimes it feels like a real-life “I Know What You Did Last Summer” with the reaper and your friend group, knocking us off one at a time. I don’t know why I’m here, healthy, and they aren’t. There is more than just guilt with this one; it’s just an immense sadness too, and that’s absolutely where some of the mix I’m feeling today is coming from, the unfairness of it all.
Man oh man, is cancer a hard thing to live through and live with. I think that I don’t acknowledge that within myself enough. I feel like I need to be strong and resilient all the time, to maintain my trademark positivity, and I think I have ended up pushing away some of the emotions that chip away at those things. I think part of me also feels like I should have moved on from the despair and the anger and the hurt and the trauma.
But that is not true. There is no “should” when it comes to how you feel, just what is. This is hard. This is hard, and that’s okay. It’s okay to admit that it is still traumatic and hard. I won’t push it away anymore. I will let myself feel.
So, whatever it is that you are feeling right now, whatever crazy mix cancer is throwing at you today, know that it is completely normal to be feeling however it is that you are. There isn’t a rule book with this, everyone is different, so be patient and kind with yourself and do a little digging to see where it’s all coming from. Tracing the thread will help, I promise. It will help you work through and identify the emotions, it will help you process them in a healthy way, and it will help you move past them. It may even identify the corners of your heart where more attention and care are needed, emotions that have been pushed away that need to be addressed, like it did for me.
But with all the bad, it is important to make sure that you properly celebrate and honour the good stuff throughout this journey, because there is also good stuff. Cancer is nothing if not one never-ending roller coaster. But today is a good day.
Happy Healing ❤️