Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Superheroes and secrets

She lays the cards down, face up in front of me, in some layout that means something to her, but nothing to me. Laying runes she's plucked from a purple velvet bag on top of each card, she tells me what she sees.

"You are focusing too much on the negative," she says gently, warmth and understanding in her eyes. She knows what went on last year, why I am now fucked up, unknown to myself, and lost. I wonder what she means. How am I focusing on the negative? I'm happy, I'm making plans, moving forward. I'm trying to integrate these experiences but I feel stuck.

After a thorough reading I pay her and thank her, and I leave, chewing gently on her statement. I don't get it. I know she's on to something because I can't stop thinking about it, but I can't figure it out.

That night someone I'm chatting with me asks me how I'm doing and I start to answer in my head (because I don't say it to everyone), I'm fucked up.

It hits me- I am not fucked up. There's nothing wrong with me. I'm finding my way through this heavy forest with prickly foliage, but I am not broken. I am still moving forward, finding my path, and carving one where there's no path to be seen. I am not fucked up.

At the cancer support group I went to one of the facilitators lent me Crazy Sexy Cancer. I had thought about getting this book when I had cancer but I didn't have the courage to do it. My friend Valerie and I had gone on a shopping trip a few years ago when our friend Whitney, at age 24, was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer. We bought her this book and all kinds of goodies. Whitney died a couple of years ago. Getting this book reminded me of her, so I couldn't do it.

I got through having cancer but there was a lot I didn't have as I went through it. I had no desire to overwhelm myself with data, and I certainly didn't want other people (who didn't have cancer, or who had survived cancer, so.. pretty much anyone) telling me how to have or deal with having cancer. I was the one who had to wake up breathing every day, I was the one who had to get through needle biopsies that hurt and scared me, and I was the one who had to wait in the purgatory between a test and the results. I couldn't handle the idea of a book that somehow glamorized or simplified or prettied up cancer.

Now I've cracked this book and I find I'm cracking in other ways, too. I climbed into my bed tonight for a few moments to decompress from an incredibly busy day, and grabbed it. I read that the author tells her father that she has tumors on her liver and he says, "I will be strong for you."

I don't have parents to be strong for me. I had to be strong for my mother, and I have no relationship with my father, so I had no parent to say, "I will hold your hand through this. I will be your strength. Fall into me, I am safe, and steady, and I will hold you."

I've asked myself probably millions of times, "Why do people need parents?" When I was going through cancer I didn't feel that I needed parents, I didn't wish that I had that element in my life. Now, looking back, I see that it could have been different, that I might not have had to be so strong, wrapped in the lap of the person who woudl love me unconditionally, and who would always want my best interest first.

As I start to look at my cancer journey, I realize that I am now starting to poke at it and not from the place of being 'fucked up', but from someone who survived cancer and is just very, simply, changed by it. Nothing more. I am changed. I don't know the scope of that, I don't know where that ends. I don't know when I'll want to stop talking about it. I don't know when I will stop reaping the gifts of discovering a new facet of myself, thank you cancer- I don't know. I just know that right now, for the first time in my life, cancer has shown me what it feels like to need a parent in my life - even the tiniest glimpse. It's more than I've ever felt.

My friend made Leah and me capes we can wear, capes that show we are strong, superheros, survivors of cancer. Leah talked about how good it felt to put hers on when she was feeling weak, or down, or struggling with anxiety. It's something tangible that reminds her of how far she's come, and who she is. I thought, "I've not worn mine like that, yet." I wore mine to show it off, to be sassy. I did not wear it because I needed comfort.

A few days ago I wrapped my cape around my shoulders and I just breathed in, and breathed out. I felt vulnerable and strong, I felt like I was in my body. I felt like my cape told a part of my story, and it offered protection, too. My crazy Beatles cape, made by my friend who generously sent us these gifts out of love and support - makes me feel not like a superhero, but that I know something special.

I am not fucked up. I laugh now, that I thought it, even for a moment, much less for months and months. I thought I was broken, that I could not be repaired. I thought the best I could hope for was a bad patch job that would just hold the parts of me together long enough that I could keep moving forward, far away from these experiences. Instead I find that this is just a new phase of me, this is me, too. This is me. It's okay that I don't recognize myself- what is life but an adventure in self discovery?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

First Cancer support group today

Today I went to my first ever survivors of cancer group. First support group. I was nervous. I had Eidie with me and what if they didn't want a little kid there? I thought out all the scenarios. What if I cried- that would be fine, but what if someone else felt like they couldn't because she was there?

I started talking myself out of it. Maybe I should just go next time. It would be fine. My friend L, who invited me and whom I was meeting, would be fine without me. She'd understand.

I kept driving and found myself at the oncology office where the group is held. Oncology. That's not a word that strikes me, because I never worked with an oncologist. I met with my family practice doctor and my endocrinologist, but never spoke to a 'cancer doctor'. I feel cheated in some ways, that support would have made my cancer journey something so different. I feel bitter, that my cancer was relegated to 'unnecessary' to meet with someone as important as an oncologist. I feel relieved, that it was so common and easy that I didn't need an oncologist. Mostly, I feel jealous that I didn't get it. Yes, jealous.

When I'm awake I can taste 
how bitter I've become
And it's more than I can bear

I went to this group of beautiful women, all in separate stages of their cancer dance. One woman is just two weeks from her diagnosis. How is she holding herself up right, I ask myself. Then I remember that I kept working and living like there was nothing new, making room in my mind for the thoughts about cancer but never setting aside my schedule so that I could just.... what... have cancer? It's so funny how I expect other people to fall apart with a diagnosis like that but found no need to do so myself.

We talked about grief and I had a lot to say, but it didn't go the way I thought it would. I think I imagined that what I would get was reassuring, knowing nods, acknowledging sounds. I did not expect to be boldly challenged in my thinking, and in my process.

"Maybe you should..."
"Give this a try..."
"Maybe you're going about it this way so you don't have to..."

I realized today that I spend so much time analyzing myself that uninvited, it pisses me right off when other people presume to do it. I feel like I am the one who has the right to decide whether I want my actions, thoughts, motives to be questioned. But there I sat, trying hard not to close down, feeling the anger rise in my belly, struggling to keep my heart open- and all the while knowing that there was some profound truth they were speaking to me or I would not be reacting so.

So I stay too busy to feel things- so what. If you had to feel all the shit I have on deck, you'd find some menial chore to do too, and fast. I want to grieve on my terms. As in, I want to control it. I want to decide when to let go of control, I want to decide when to let it run over me, so that I can decide when to stand back up and dust myself off.

Instead, I drive down the road and think the craziest thoughts, ones I don't dare write because... I find myself worrying what the impact would be- would it worry someone? Hurt someone? Odd, for me, but there it is. I'll find the right words, but not today.

Sitting with perfect strangers looking at me, nodding in my direction as someone else who doesn't know me talks about the holes in my process was like being stripped naked on the side of the highway for all of the passersby to see.  This is something very new to me. I found myself unable to detach myself from this vulnerable, naked feeling, that I couldn't just decide who I wanted to be in this group but could only react, and catch up. It was really hard. I left there angry and enlightened, toying with never coming back, because fuck that shit and knowing at the same time that I'd never let myself off the hook that way. I sat there and thought, "I had cancer. I can do this."

The note transcribed reads:

Who are you to tell me what I should do to feel my grief? What do you know about me?

Sap rising with the anger and as I feel it, I know there is something daringly true about what she's saying. I hear her saying that I am resisting the slow pace of the process, of grief. I expect it to fit into the empty spaces between the edges of my busy, full life.

I am sitting in this room, and I am more naked- to myself - than I have been since I can remember. I find that I am bitter, I am angry. At you, and at you, and at me. I tell myself I will never come back here. I am not seen the way I like, the way I control, the way that is comfortable. The blankets are ripped away by the hands of other women's experiences and we are revealed, vulnerable. But we do not cover our nakedness from each other. 

I am brave and strong. Maybe this is the Medicine I need right now.

{Around the edge of the paper}

I want to feel it in categories, in little packets, like how I experienced it. I want to be finished fully with cancer before I walk through Africa. I want to enjoy my triumph before I delve into the death of my mother. I won't get it.