The first reaction I had was to reach out to her, and I did. I encouraged her to not miss out on the gifts that this brings along with the drama, and stress, and worry, and anger, and everything else. I've learned that you can't box up and categorize cancer. It isn't the devil, it just is- whatever it is.
The second reaction I had was to feel very insecure in my understanding of what she's going through. I "just" have thyroid cancer, while she's dealing with something that I imagine is far scarier, and more life threatening. What credential do I imagine I have that allows me to speak as some kind of knowledgeable person about what that might feel like? I started to feel a little tender, that maybe I should keep my mouth shut and let people with 'real' cancer support her, that maybe my thoughts would be dismissed because I'm not really having to fight to live in the same way she is.
Leah was lovely and gracious and touched by my contact and it made me feel a lot better- we all have something profound to give each other and I often underestimate whatever my offerings are in the moment. I wouldn't describe myself as insecure but in new terrain like this, where I don't know the 'rules' (real or imagined), I tend to think that I'm the one who is going to get it wrong and mess things up, rather than the opposite.
I sat with these feelings just noticing them, wondering what new bit of information was going to reveal itself while I picked at the edges of all this discomfort. I realized that Leah and I (and anyone else going through something big) have everything in common.
- We're grieving the life we had, just yesterday, before we knew. Before the "BigBadTerrible" happened to us, life was some kind of normal we were comfortable with. We didn't realize how comfortable we were until the BBT thing revealed itself.
- We don't know what we're doing, and we're doing the best we can in any given moment. Sometimes that looks like a bout of depression. Sometimes it's manic laughter, or singing at the top of ones lungs. Who creates a handbook for life change? No one. Suddenly we're in another country and we don't speak the language, the landmarks aren't something we recognize, and we have to find a way to make a new life here.
- We look around to the people we know and immediately those relationships change too. So not only are we integrating the news ourselves, the pillars of strength that hold us up start to become shaky, some disappear all together, and new ones pop up where we least expect it. How do we get our bearings in this new world when it keeps changing?
- Who ARE we in this new world? We don't get to pick an identity like avatars (otherwise I'd have a lot more tattoos and nicer boobs, for sure), but we do have to wake up every day and decide how we're going to breathe, eat, talk to people, interact in our lives, with this life changing information bubbling inside of us.
- We are learning by fire. We suddenly become pariahs because people don't want to 'catch' whatever it is that afflicts us. Death? Disease? I want none of that! If I stay away, it won't happen to me. The ostrich approach is automatic but it never works- because life still happens around us and to us.
There's no one right way to be. I don't write my blog to do anything but document what I'm experiencing, thinking, feeling through this. There are things I don't say. I just want to be able to come back and see the truth of what happened to me, and how it landed in my life, and what I did with it.
I liken this to our own personal 9/11. Our nation one day was going along fine, having integrated all of the experiences we had as a country and things seemed normal. Suddenly, a great breaking occurred. It shook us all up and we had to figure out how to be with this new reality. Now we've settled into that new reality but we can never go back to who we were before thousands of people were viciously murdered on our soil. I can never go back to not knowing what it's like to have cancer, to having to tell my kids, and my friends. That experience can't be teased out of me.
So while I don't know what other fighters are going through as they navigate cancer, we have common ground. We want to live, and we have to figure out the best way, for us, in order to accomplish that.