This morning, after a night of little to no sleep and a lot of tears I turned in my bed to see my phone light up with a call. It was my best friend John ringing, I knew, to seek comfort in our mutual fears. He sounded like the brilliant John I have always loved but he was meeker and spoke of his dread. I wept about the possible hit the environment would take if we back out of the Paris Treaty and for my own personal worry that I will lose my heath care coverage as a person with a pre-existing condition. There were so many nuances of this situation all flooding through me and each one hitting me physically until I felt trapped in my own tears. I kept saying I just wanted to let it go a little and care less and worry on a smaller scale but at 9am this morning I couldn’t do that yet.
John said, “I’ve never been this scared” and described to me his feelings of watching life go on in the coffee shop around him this morning as he panicked. He talked to me about not knowing what to do with his day and how grateful he was he had some work to throw himself into. As I heard this I responded with an understanding, “I don’t know if I have ever felt this way before either. I’ve never been so terrified.”
But that isn’t true.
My Aunt, in a similar phone call just after my talk with John said to me, “No, I have heard you like this before. I will never forget your voice on the other end of the phone the day you called me with your cancer diagnoses.”
It all came rushing back to me. This exact feeling has existed in my body before and I remember it vividly.
When the doctor said the words to me I didn’t understand them. It was like he had created a new language or I had suddenly forgotten English. It was only when I looked to my mother in the tiny chair of the exam room that I started to understand the gravity of the situation. Everything had changed in a moment.
What happens in our bodies and minds when everything we know is turned upside down? The feeling I remember most and felt again today was that the light in the world had altered. The energy of everything shifts and small things like familiar streets and the side door to your house that you’ve walked through thousands of times all look new and scary. The two mile drive from that exam room to my house I looked out the window of my mothers car as she drove in silence and thought “where am I?” It wasn’t dramatic, it was deafening silence and a light post, another light post, another light post, another light post and another light post. Had there always been so many light posts on Hope Street?
The mind races and a desire to have all the information and simultaneously wanting to push out all knowledge clash. What do I eat? How do I spend this day? The fear of shutting down is real and I allowed it to happen moments at a time. I had to break completely down for minutes at a time in order to burst back to life for a few minutes to process and prevent a total collapse.
For a full week I went through the motions of life and lived in a constant state of panic. There are always so many variables when everything changes, aren’t there?
The full story of my illness, treatment and recovery is larger then I want to explore here and now. But that moment was on August 26, 2008 and over eight years later I am here. I am happy and healthy and I have come back stronger. Oddly enough, the time in my life that I fought the hardest and was the bravest was when I was technically at my weakest. I let days and weeks and months pass now casually without having to fight for anything and I hope that hasn’t allowed me to forget my ability to claw like hell towards things getting better.
I will not overlook the permanent damage done to my body and mind by chemotherapy. My immune system will never be as strong as I need it to be and my mind has lost certain abilities and memories I cannot recover. Still, with all of that being said, I’m more powerful and loving and appreciative and capable then I ever would have been without that experience.
I am not special. I did not conquer that moment of life because I am gifted or magic, I did it because I had to. Everyone is capable of inspirational things.
Donald Trump is our next President. The next week will be filled with new fears and worries that we have never felt before. I am here to tell you all, that I have looked that fear in the eyes, cowered and then come right back. Allow for this moment to be hard. Sit with it, think about what makes it scary and then rest for a moment. Then get up and fight like hell; not against what is happening but alongside it to chip away at everything we still have control over. We will get through it and fight for necessary social changes and eventually win. We may also witness permanent damage to the planet and environment we cannot take back.
Do not engage in hateful fights with those who voted for this man. Trust that their fears are valid for them and they made a choice that felt right in their hearts. Show everyone love, inspire people to join their community, smile at everyone on the street, write positive words on social media outlets for the world to see. You do not have to agree with his supporters, you can be upset with them privately or in like company, but do not allow this loss to create more outward hate.
A year after my diagnoses my mother was diagnosed with what they thought to be breast cancer (ultimately neuroendocrine cancer). She called me on the phone after her appointment while I was still recovering in bed myself. She wept and admitted to me that she couldn’t stop shaking. She was scared and felt alone and told me she didn’t know what to do next. I calmly reminded her of the day we shared together when I was diagnosed and filled her in on everything that had been racing through my mind while she was in mom mode caring for me. She was silent when I told her I felt like nothing would ever be the same again and talked about my inability to process what came next. Then I promised her that within a week she would feel better; not one hundred percent or anything close, just better. Every small fear would slowly be replaced with solutions and those solutions would turn into experience and that experience would blossom into strength. I told her I loved her and we got off the phone so she could take whatever time she needed to process everything.
She called me back within a minute and told me she felt okay. She didn’t mean okay like everything was fine but she said she had stopped shaking completely and she felt hopeful and calm.
She was strong during her chemo and fought like hell and one day she told me while we were sitting in her treatment room that my having gone through it and telling her what came after got her through the worst moment of it all. I suddenly felt like it was possible that cosmically I had gotten sick just so I could help her in that one moment with my experience. I like to still think that is the reason because it was all worth it if that was what I was now empowered to do.
The moment my aunt reminded me that I had felt this way before, I remembered what I could do and what we can do. We are strong, kind, forgiving, optimistic and ready in spite of our fears.