My cancerversary marks the date I was diagnosed with cancer and is not, as I sometimes feel pressured to feel, a celebration of being cancer free. It’s possible I was cancer free after the tumor was removed, or maybe not until treatment was finished, or maybe not even now. All I know is that I’m here and that I feel better than I did three years ago. Much better.
My cancerversary is Saturday. It’s a date that only I will feel and notice, unless I go out of my way to remind my family and friends. I won’t. It seems odd to bring attention to one of the worst days of my life and have all of us stand around and say, “Gee that was bad. So awful. Now, who wants pancakes?”
Instead, my cancerversary arrives around the middle of August with this feeling in my gut that something isn’t right, but not that anything is particularly wrong and stays through the end of the month.
I roasted beets last week because I love them, and I’ve been craving them ever since getting a beet salad at a salad bar. No one else in the family likes them, so I have them all to myself. Roasted, peeled, and sliced. Slightly warm with goat cheese melting on top. Maybe on a bed of arugula. I ate a huge serving.
When I went to the bathroom several hours later, looking in the toilet as I stood up, I saw red. And a cancer-variety PTSD overwhelmed me. It felt like my insides were falling out of me the way a shelf drops down in a cheap bookcase. No heart beat, no breathing, no thoughts forming, a fog of panic wrapping around me.
It’s getting better and better as time goes on. In just a few moments, seconds really, I told myself to breathe and to say, “It’s just the beets. It’s just the beets.”
But I’ll never unsee the blood in the toilet. I’ll always know what that looked like.
And, then, last week at my support group, we were talking about doctors and how brutal they sometimes are. We’ve all heard each other’s stories, but they’re stories we return to. One woman tells her story with irony and humor. It is actually very funny.
But I didn’t laugh because I could only hear a strange doc’s brutal words echoing in my head from three years ago. His callous, angry, irritated voice is something I’ll never unhear. Truly, the mechanic at Honda told me I needed my brake pads replaced in a kinder and more professional way.
All of the sights and sounds of that experience leak out of the vault in my head during my cancerversary. The feeling of an I.V. in my arm. The sound of the alarm on the blood pressure / vitals machine when I turned the wrong way in bed. The feeling of those hideous hospital socks. The sensation of getting smaller and smaller while the people and machines around me got bigger and bigger.
I can’t unsee them, and I can’t unhear them, but I’m learning to accept them and to just weave them into the fabric of all the memories I can’t forget.
Like the feeling of holding my two year old daughter, legs wrapped around my waist, head on my shoulder as I walk around a book store. The sight of a guy walking down the road with an umbrella (I knew I’d spend the rest of my life with him). The Sandia mountains in front me as I cycle towards them. The dry air of the desert and sweet smell of piñon trees.
They’re all in that vault alongside each other. The sights and sounds and feelings of a life.
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