Living with cancer: making peace with the past

Living with cancer: making peace with the past

Since being officially given “remission” status by my doctor, I’ve been working very hard to make peace with the past and to let it go. As I create an inventory of events and people that I’m still thinking about or struggling with, my mind naturally wanders to past relationships.

It’s easy for me to focus on bad things and broken relationships, on the things I wish I’d never said and the things others said that I can’t forget. But, there’s so much more to remember.

I was driving down I-80 yesterday, singing along with Taylor Swift (after cancer, I don’t even blush saying that in public) and thinking that it’s not just bad relationships that make good songs. Even though we break up, sometimes the sweetest moments in our lives come from those long gone loves.

So, as I’ve been thinking about broken relationships and wondering how I ever got into some of them (and thanking the gods I got out), I’ve also been remembering the sweetness of so many relationships in my life.

Like my fifth grade boyfriend, Scott Truax. Scott and Ricky competed for my love in fifth grade. Ricky gave me lots of gifts. Remember the fuzzy feet craze of the mid-70s? Ricky showered me with fuzzy feet stickers. He was adorable. Dimples, dark hair.

But Scott wrote me a note telling me he loved me and hoped that I wouldn’t give up on him just because he couldn’t afford all the gifts. Scott walked with me to and from school every day. We talked about everything.

There really wasn’t much of a choice.

I wasn’t a cool kid. Except for fifth grade, boys didn’t compete for my love. I was barely visible during high school. I was the girl who sat in the back of the classroom making snarky comments about the teacher. The guys laughed, but as far as they were concerned, I was just one of the guys.

Something magical happened when I went to summer camp, though. I got to be a different person for a week or two in the summer. My inner cheerleader shone through. I somehow found the courage to be sweet and full of spirit and to give up the snark and sarcasm. Not for long, but for a week or two.

Evidently, boys liked sweet spirit. Every year I managed to end up with a hunky athlete who was smitten, romanced me and then wrote letters for several months after. For all I scoffed at the athletes and the cheerleaders at my high school, for all the sarcasm and snark I aimed at them, my summer romances were wonderful interludes in a moody adolescence.

Glenn, Kent and Tom, each over six foot, made me believe I was a different person. I was visible and special. Each of them was a gentleman, kind, smart, and smitten with a person who didn’t really exist. But the romance of summer camp still glows in my memory.

And then, there was Paul, who grew up nerdy and sensitive and gifted in southeastern New Mexico. Truth is, he was gay, which is a tough road to walk in that dusty world not far from the Texas border. I didn’t know he was gay at the time, and maybe he didn’t know either.

I adored Paul. He was a musician and a poet, and he came along in my life at a time when I desperately needed kindness and respect. I think he adored me, too. He was certainly loving and generous. He broke my heart, but I always smile when I think of him. I hope he found the love of his life and that he is still writing and singing songs.

Turns out, with all of the work that I need to do, the forgetting and forgiving, there’s also the warm remembrance. Mixed in with the struggle are the people who’ve loved me and taught me to love, who’ve made me better because they saw something valuable inside me.

I think of R.E.M’s lyrics and hope you can “live your life filled with joy and wonder.”

“Oh, oh, but sweetness follows. /  It’s these little things, they can pull you under / Live your life filled with joy and wonder / I always knew this altogether thunder / Was lost in our little lives”

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