It's a good thing, though. A few years ago, this day was a crushing reminder of all I'd lost. The college experiences I'd never had, the physical activities lost to me through the damage caused by both cancer and cure, my freaking gorgeous hair, all of it. I'd hide away and mope and cry and numb myself as best as possible, all to get through one single day.
I'm not sure when that stopped, within the last five years for sure. The question is...why?
There are a couple things I've attributed this to:
1. Adaptation: The human mind is a crazy, weird, wonderful thing. I couldn't even begin to list all the fascinating things about it, there's been countless books written on the topic, but the one that helps dull the pain of remembrance and allows me to forget the day my life was forever changed is our ability to adapt to even the most mind-bending situations.
There's a lot said about desensitization today, particularly when it comes to violence. However, we're constantly desensitized to almost everything. Think about it—to people living 50 years ago, our lives today are almost unrecognizable. The sheer ingenuity and complexity of our technology alone is an absolute marvel and wonder.
We landed people on the Moon! "Yeah, whatever, big whoop, let me look at cat videos." Now, wait, how can you even look at cat videos? Less than thirty years ago, it was next to impossible to easily access the wild and wacky antics of fuzzy felines, now, it's a ubiquitous phenomena that threatens the very fabric of our existence. Or something. Maybe not. But you get my point.
Same thing with cancer. I started off numbed to it, not through desensitization, but through sheer shock. "Surprise! You have cancer. Here's a menagerie of exceedingly toxic chemicals, have fun." Ten years later, that doesn't phase me. I've relived and replayed those memories thousands upon thousands of times—especially when writing my memoir—and over time, my well of tears dried up, my anxiety and trauma of revisiting those nightmarish days of life and death faded, and it all just seems routine.
I've had ten joint replacements since 2010. I'm so used to surgeries I actually look forward to them now! It's my new normal, a known entity—as opposed to normal life which scares the hell out of me because I have so little experience with anything outside being pumped full of drugs, of having pieces of me ripped out and metal shoved in their place. But that's just another thing to get used to, and I'm sure that the more I expose myself to the more mundane, normal experiences most people know, the more my anxiety with regards to that will fade.
2. Time: There's a stupid cliché about time healing all wounds—it's utter BS. Time doesn't heal all wounds, not by a long shot. But it does grant you perspective and distance, and with that, an easing of suffering.
The memories and traumas become fuzzier, less distinct. It begins to feels less and less like something that happened to you—though there are still moments when it comes back clear as day. Of course, the pain never really leaves, but you're able to put it into better context.
While you're dealing with cancer and treatments and the after-effects of both, it's hard to focus on anything but the present. A decade or more later, you can look at where it all led you. Is it likely your life isn't as good as you would have hoped before cancer? Sure. But you get a chance to view your past through whichever lens you chose. Did cancer mess everything up? Or did it set you on a different path?
The key is spinning cancer in a positive light, in reframing your experience so you can find positives to take away from it. "But cancer sucked, how can anything good come from it?" Good question. I can't answer that, because all experiences differ—we're individuals, our paths diverge from the common origin of diagnosis. The only person who can reframe your traumas is you.
So, for those going through cancer now, or having just entered remission, don't give up. It takes time, experience, it takes getting used to, but the mental and emotional anguish of your fight with cancer—if not the physical difficulties—will dull. Let that comfort you in difficult times—for we are only as strong as we think we are.
- Cancer sucks (shocker)
- Your mind has the ability to adapt to even the most challenging situations
- Distance and perspective help to ease the pain of past experiences
- You're as strong as you believe you are