I recently attended a large fundraising event and ran into several people who I had not seen in years. One woman came up to me and complimented me on how good I look -- "such a fun short haircut" she said. I proceeded to my standard response -- "I'm just glad it came back" (insert awkward giggle). She looked puzzled and then asked what was new. I of course went on this long perhaps dramatic explanation of how after this past year with the breast cancer and all, I'm really trying to take pause, and not sure exactly what lies ahead for me. She looked at me with a blank stare. She had no idea I had been dealing with cancer. She was just engaging in casual chit chat, but I of course was talking from my cancer bubble -- awkward! We then proceeded to talk about Pilates.
I remember at the start of my journey, several people explaining to me how I would start to look at life as "before cancer" and "after cancer." While I empathized with the fact that is how they viewed their experience, surely it wasn't that black and white. After all, I vowed from the beginning that cancer wouldn't define me. I wish it wasn't the case and it simply just didn't matter any more, but the thing is, it does. As much as I like to believe I am out of my cancer bubble, I'm very aware that it is still very much a part of my daily life.
I still wake up every Thursday morning thinking it is chemo day. I still have the gnawing fear at every meal that a wave of nausea will occur. I still rely on my pill box every morning to keep track of my medications. I still step out of the shower every day and see the scars on my body. I still have the overwhelming moments of emotion that wash over me at the most unpredictable times. I still feel annoyed that despite not having any breast tissue, I have to perform breast exams -- always with a knot in my stomach. And I find myself feeling conflicted of not wanting to think about the cancer at all and then suddenly feeling terrified I'll forget.
Then there are the doctors and other survivors who are quick to remind that it is never really over. Given there are no recommended body scans or blood tests, the only indicator of the cancer coming back is symptom-based. So an ache is no longer just an ache.
Despite the paranoia, emotion and disorientation, all the good stuff and lessons learned are slowly but surely inching their way into my consciousness. I feel more lighthearted. I feel more present and loving. I enjoy my time with others and myself on an entirely new level. But I am simply embracing that I will be in a constant socially awkward state as I navigate how to set new boundaries while being open to new possibilities, staying responsible to my current obligations, and trying to stay present, loving, and honest with myself amongst it all. But most importantly, it is the awkward moments that remind me to lighten up! And when all else fails, at least there is Pilates to chit chat about.