13 July 2010

Relay for Life? Or Celebrate Life?

After I went into remission, a very urgent need came to be that I needed to do something about the cancer experience. The core of my belief system is that everything happens for a reason. And, cancer is a big THING! I cannot let the experience or the lesson go to waste. All of that must be put into something good. I had great intentions. I was going to make a difference for those touched by cancer! Although, I was wisely counseled by my boyfriend and my brother that I should probably take things in stride and put it in first gear and take some time to heal and regroup, before any major undertaking. Well, of course it turned out that it was wise advice. I had just about enough energy to go to work daily and maintain the rhythm of the once-interrupted life. It takes time to put things back together, I suppose. Life certainly did not stop or slow down, just because I had to. So, it turned out that it was the best advice.

And now, I finally have my bearings. So, I took some time to research how I could get involved and give back. There are a lot of choices. But, in the end, I chose The American Cancer Society's Relay for Life, in keeping with my former post and a belief that we are all in this together. Yes. There are different kinds of cancer, including mine. But, I wanted to support the organization that helps all cancer. And the American Cancer Society was the best choice for this. I also liked Relay for Life because of its communal character -- camping for 24 hours with your "team," amongst other teams.

So, this was quite an an important decision for me. It was sort of a "coming out" to my community at large -- many of whom did not know I was sick at all. It was also a chance for me to involve my friends and family with cancer, at last! I had my reservations and trepidations about all of this. But I was done keeping my cancer under a bushel. It was time to share. I've had a year to have to almost all to myself. But, the world doesn't benefit from that. Does it? Only in my "coming out" and sharing the experience with others will it do anyone else any good. Time to get over my introvertedness and time to let go! I was not doing anyone any good by keeping all of this under wraps.
Still and all, it took about a couple of weeks of clicking on Relay for Life's website to read up on what it involved to be a Team Captain and to raise funds as well as organize a team for the event. I had to talk myself into committing to it -- being a team captain and assembling a team for the event, with the help of my friends and community of course. And what a "coming out" party it was going to be! We were going to "camp" for 24 hours while raising money for the cause. Brilliant!

Last night, as I put the final touches in the Evite for Relay for Life, I got a phone call from one of my very good friends to discuss another very good friend's bridal shower/bachelorette party. The date and venue was set. All I needed to do was post my response to the event's Evite. Done! Am there with bells on and all that. Of course!

BUT. . . (you guessed it!)

The aforementioned shower/bachelorette party is the same day as Relay for Life! (May I just say that I was mildly annoyed and discouraged? After all that thought and self-prodding to finally do something AND involve everyone else, someone had the nerve to get married!)

Momentary quandary: Should I go through with the commitment to myself and the powers that be to do Relay for Life? Or, should I be a good friend and attend said bridal shower/bachelorette party? Herein lies the rub: The very community that I wanted to finally open up to and involve in my cancer journey will be a the bridal shower. So, really, in the larger (or smaller) scheme of things, what was more important?

Yes. I had (definitely) grand and (perhaps) honorable intentions in doing Relay for Life with my community of friends and family. But really, do gestures of gratitude or reason have to be that grand in order to count? Or, is being there for a good friend during a very important occasion of her life, as grand as being at Relay for Life? Here, the old adage rings true. Charity begins at home. In this instance, I didn't have to make a big splash to make a difference. I am blessed to be alive to share in this wonderful time of her life. There are currently over 200 teams registered to participate in my city's Relay for Life. But my girlfriend only has only a few of us with whom to celebrate her impending marriage.

There wasn't a quandary after all.

08 July 2010


Around this time last year, I was coming away from a big, happy remission party that my friends had given for me. Friends flew in from far and wide, there was an abundance of food and good cheer, and everyone was happy that I had "conquered cancer!" What a celebration!

But I remember being at that party and watching my friends "celebrate me," and feeling as if I were watching a movie, in slow motion with no sound. Yes. I was there. Yes, I was hugging and kissing and cavorting with them. But it felt as if I wasn't there -- as if I was on the outside looking in.

The thing was, even though I was relieved, I couldn't relate to everyone's euphoria and celebration. I was pre-occupied with overwhelming feelings of alienation and void within. My life over the past few months had been seriously regimented with an intensely focused goal -- kill those cancer cells! Mission accomplished! I had entered remission and I should've have been dancing at the rafters. But I wasn't. Well, externally, I was. I had to -- for everyone else's sake.

Inside, I was dutifully grateful, as if by rote. But I was also lost and dreadful, and somehow numb. My gratitude was not as overarching as everyone else's. What was in the forefront were my feelings of dread and estrangement. Yes. I was relieved. But more than that, I felt lost and in flux. What an ingrate, right? How many people would want to be in my place and be in remission? Fortunate! That's what I was and that's the way I should've felt. To no avail.

Why then was I in this state of being? Why wasn't I shouting through the rooftops with joy like everyone else? Why did I feel empty and gray?

First - when I was diagnosed with cancer, Auntie Mame told me that my illness was but a detour; and that life will go on after I beat cancer. She meant it. I believed it wholeheartedly. And because of that. . .

Second - the months ensuing were intensely laser-focused on one thing: cancer. I was surrounded by the most competent people and together, we marched to the drum of beating cancer. I lived and breathed it. It was my sole purpose of being. There was nothing else.

Third - because of the above, everything had a sense of urgency and (if you will) sensationalism. My family, friends, and colleagues were panicked and frantic. All eyes were intensely on me: Dr. T and his team, my family and friends, my colleagues. Although I fought hard to be at arms' length with family and friends, it still felt like I was very much in the limelight. Herein lies the rub: Eventually, I bought into it! I got used to the attention, even if it was unwelcome, many times. Kris Carr was right! Cancer is crazy and (yes!) sexy!

Now, I use "sexy" in the loosest way possible; sexy like in "interesting" or "attractive" and yes, even "sensationalistic." But definitely, more on the "interesting" bent. Cancer is sexy that way. And because it is, people gravitate towards it -- people gravitated toward me. For a few months, I was the cause celebre, all due to the fact that I had cancer -- phone calls, cards, people flying in from everywhere to visit, prayers, tears, gifts, parties, you name it. What was particularly welcome was the care that I received from my oncology team. I felt as if in a protective cocoon of medical care. I'd gotten used to it.

So, as intensely as attention and care was showered on me during my period of illness was as quickly as all of that disappeared once my remission was declared. After the party, there I was, left in the cold and facing the abyss that was life without cancer. Silence. . . that was what I was left with, after the party, the fuss and the doctor visits had stopped.

Last - After I went into remission, I started believing that cancer wasn't just a detour. Rather, it was a divine push of the "reset" button. Everything happens for a reason. I believe that. And so, of course, I questioned why I got sick and then was spared afterwards. There had to be a reason. And I had to repurpose my life. New beginnings. There had to be something bigger out there. What was it?

After all the concentrated attention lavished on me, so much so that sometimes I couldn't even breath, I was left with myself -- to figure out why my life was on out "reset."

If there was ever a time I really felt alienated from my waking life, it was then. Somehow, I felt I didn't belong to the cancer community anymore because I was in remission. But, at the same time, I felt I didn't belong to the other comuunities who hadn't been ill with cancer either. I felt disconnected from everyone and everything. I was facing this foggy abyss and I didn't know how deep or wide it was. But I had to try. I had to take steps to repurpose my life -- quickly! Life's too short, afterall. And so, I tried . . . for a year. . .

Last weekend, the same friends got together for a party at the same place around the same time. Only, it wasn't my remission party, it was 4th of July get-together. It seemed to me as though everyone had changed: babies born, couples married, friends almost graduating from school, kids getting older, and friends being pregnant. A good friend asked how I was doing. Me? Fine, I guess. Nothing's changed. I'm still in remission. Am still in the same job. Still have the same aches and pains. Have I discovered the "reason" why I got sick? Have I discovered my new purpose? Had I done anything significant over the past year except suriving cancer? No. I had nothing to report. An immense feeling of disppointment overcame me. I am now, where I was last year -- still feeling alienated and somehow lost. No progress.

What I didn't realize was how spent I was. Having put all of my energy into overcoming my illness, I was bereft of direction or will to do anything else, despite the internal pressure to grandly rebirth myself ala "Phoenix rising from the ashes!" Little did I know that the ashes would weigh me down for while and blur everything. And, so after a year of walking around in circles (it seems), I am back in the same place, with my hands up in the air still asking "Now what?"

I spent most of the 4th of July in tears, discouraged.

But today, even feeling like I am where I was last year, I renew my commitment to keep at it. But it's another year and it deserves a new commitment. So what if I still don't know why? or when? or how? What's important is that I'm still here walking, albeit in circles and stopping from time to time asking "Now what?" But, I'm here and I'd like to turn a new page. Perhaps by doing so, I'll find that "passage" and read the answers. Maybe someday, I'll find a way to the clearing. But none of that will happen until I press the button myself (not the universe, not the divine, not cancer nor anyone else) . And so . . . .

Here I go. . .