"Recovery" has such a lovely, somnolent sound, like a lazy kitten stretching out its paws to the sun. Something one can revel in, reach out one's hands to, and hold loosely, reverently.
"Survivorship" is another spectacular word, and on dark days I wrap it around my throat like a multi-colored scarf, hoping it will reassure me and take away some of the demons jumping in my head.
Here they are: Last night at the glamorous hour of 3:00 a.m. the cancer panic wheel lurched into motion. What if the ovarian cancer I had metastasized, hidden behind some organ? I had months of chemo to deal with that possibility, but what if? And there's my good friend's daughter, whose breast cancer did metastasize to her brain, and now she has to have radiation! Maybe my cancer's hiding in my brain? Maybe I can find a drive-by CAT scan truck which will check out my cranium for not too much money?
I think of myself as basically optimistic, strong, and hopeful, a person of faith. While I didn't exactly sail through two surgeries and months of chemo, I survived pretty well and kept up a somewhat normal life. (That includes lots of cooking.) But sometimes I feel as if I had a dark shadow attached to the back of my body; I can't see it, though I whip my head around to catch a glimpse. But it is there--the self with dark thoughts, no trust, poor faith, and weird predictions--you will die by 74.
Other times I think of my second self as a flayed skin--as if some part of me had been stripped away by cancer and now was attached, fluttering mutely on my back. This has the capacity to bring me down, to eat too much, drink too much wine, buy too many items on Amazon, and search frantically through newspapers for good news about promising cancer cures. Found one today on the NY Times, about "checkpoint inhibitors," which rev up the body's T cells to fight cancer. Sounds promising, all except for the few people whose T cells attacked their heart....
In the 6th month out from the cessation of chemo, this is what's happening: Having walked through my hospital stays and treatment without sobbing
under the covers and snorting unnamed substances, I now find myself on the other side of cancer. If such a thing exists. All of the courage and perseverance I mustered during treatment has a cost; I feel hollowed out, at least for today. I told a good friend, recovering from several courses of chemo, that, "We need a Viagra pill for courage, something to jack it up and make it stand tall."
That's where I am today, with a fistful of mixed metaphors: Cancer Panic Wheel, Viagra for Courage, and Flayed Skin. But when something as life-altering and scary as cancer happens, you need a lot of metaphors to build a container to hold it. I am looking for one, and haven't found it yet. But I'm working on it.