I ran into an acquaintance at a café the other day. She didn’t recognize me at first with my grunge smurf toque look but when she did she was kind, and chatty, and inquisitive – all things I didn’t mind. She told me that when she found out I had breast cancer, she had cried. She asked me “how are you doing – no really. How are you doing?” and it made me realize she was asking… in an offhand way… was I going to die? Or, I suppose – was I going to live? A light wave of freaked-out-ness rippled through me. This isn’t the first time this has happened – and it occurred to me that there were some people out there that had heard through the grapevine that I had cancer, and perceived that I might die. It is sort of the first thing you think when you hear about someone having cancer. What stage is it? What’s the prognosis? It always brings me straight back to that creeping feeling in my mind, the demons that come out at night when I can’t sleep, where I hamster-wheel and mind-spiral down a path of negativity. I could die, but they say I won’t. I could die, but the chances aren’t that high of a recurrence as long as I do A, B and C treatments. You are lucky you are able to do A, B and C. I know I am lucky. But A, B and C have still taken huge emotional and physical tolls out of me. And I still have D, E and F to go.
There are days when I wake up and look in the mirror and don’t recognize myself. I look beaten, older, different. Puffy, with the bald-but-growing-back-hair of someone who’s been through chemo and the demons that go along with it. I remember going to meet with the oncology surgeon back in January, before I lost my hair (oh how I miss my hair), and riding up the elevator behind an Asian woman in a grey sweatsuit. Her hair was just a light baby duckling fuzz, patchy, coming in. Her face was unhappy, tired. A wave of panic went through me. This woman was on the other side of where I was going. The other side is still a long way away. I’m calling it my Mental Pain Mountain. The polar opposite of cake. Cake is a happy place. Cake is pretty, sweet, sugary, symbolic of love, family, friendship, community. A slice for everyone. Mental Pain Mountain doesn’t have much cake. Except for an awesome cake at the peak??
When I’m online, interacting in a silly/serious way on Instagram or liking pics so much I’m getting a thumb-ache, I can sometimes forget what I look like now and what I’ve been through until I start getting pangs of jealousy over pretty, stylish women posting beautifully composed photos so freely with seemingly no life problems or concerns, no cancer breathing down their neck. But then I’ll remember that online life is not real life. Many of these women are now businesswomen and entrepreneurs – they’re making a living making things look good. Which is great of course. But maybe on the other side of the iPhone they are like me – waves of depression, fatigue, never having enough time for partner/kid/work/keeping the house clean and in order. Wishing they had the energy and desire to lose ten pounds but eating a bag of chips instead. Generally glass half full but sometimes glass half empty. Dreaming and praying for things they can’t have, mourning losses of their own. Some people choose to share the uglier parts of their lives and some people don’t.
Sharing has been healing for me, helpful. To know I’m not alone, that so many people have gone through cancer, and breast cancer, and gone to battle. I feel like I’ve been sent into a giant cartoon factory and when I entered the front door of this mysterious factory, I was a whole person – happy, confident, with long black hair, red lipstick, healthy, energetic, creative, my life ahead of me. Then they shooed me in and shut the door behind me and I went through these horrible weird pipes and darkness and got cut up on a conveyer belt, poisoned and mentally effed with… and now it’s spit me out and here I am. Yes. Sometimes I feel like factory seconds. But I am still here, I am still me, like a little root inside myself, trying to grow. xo Lyndsay
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