Friday, October 19, 2012


When I was diagnosed with cancer, one of the first things I was able to articulate in terms of what I was feeling- but kept to myself- was the the sensation I'd been robbed or violated. My body was playing a cruel trick on me, and instead of being the vehicle to propel my spirit forward, it was attempting to kill me and all the potential I had. At twenty-one I didn't exactly know how it would all come together, but I knew I had great things to do, people to save, lives to impact, and suddenly it was all in jeopardy. There was this sense of loss, and I mourned for a long time.

What did I lose? I described it as my invincibility. I was robbed of my invincibility. Cancer took an open and endless future and built an invisible brick wall in front of me, and while I didn't know exactly where it was, I believed that at some point I would hit that wall, and it would all be over. I also had this picture in my head of this superhero cape being ripped from my shoulders. I carried this sentiment for a long, long time. For years I dreaded the day I'd hit that wall, because I knew it was there. I was angry, and I wanted my cape back.

At the beginning of the summer something funny happened. I went for a bike ride. It was one of the first long rides I did, and when I came home, I noticed my arms were a little pink. I gasped and felt a deep sense of guilt. I'd forgotten to put on sunscreen. The guilt was tempered by a pride and excitement, I had forgotten to put on sunscreen. I could not remember the last time I'd done that. As a melanoma survivor, I am very, very, very well aware that I should wear sunscreen, and I do. However, this particular day, I forgot. In the last six years, I had never, ever forgotten to put on sunscreen.

While I was mad I'd forgotten, I couldn't help but smile, because I knew in that moment that I'd just gotten my cape back. By forgetting the sunscreen, I'd done something the cancer-fearing, robbed-of-my-invincibility self would have never done. As for that invisible wall, I'm not sure whether it's in front of me or behind me, but I've made peace with that, because I wouldn't take back the journey that brought me here.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Sixth Year

“Cancer. The word meant the same to me as tsunami or piranha. I had never seen them; I wasn't even quite sure what they were, but I knew they were bad and I knew in many cases they were deadly.” (Natalie Palmer, Second Kiss) 

 June 5, 2006 is a day that forever changed the course of my life. I learned what is was like to stand on the beach when the proverbial tsunami hit, or swim with the metaphorical piranhas. I found out I had cancer.

Flash forward six years to the day. Tomorrow will be a starkly normal day, and I'm pretty happy about it. I'll get up early and go for a run if it's not raining, then I'll go to work, grad school class, and come home and make dinner. I've celebrated my cancerversary each year I've survived, and while I'm personally reflecting (and rejoicing) that I'm still here- breathing, running, and living, I'm content at this point to be 'normal' and embrace the normalness I've found since cancerversary number five.

That said, I've got a lot to be grateful for. My life has come together in so many ways and everything seems practically perfect- although I hesitate to use that word because if everything is perfect, it can only get worse. As if maintained health isn't enough, I have  gotten engaged, landed my dream job, and rescued a dog this year. All of these things mark a new level of survivorship that includes planning ahead for a lifetime, rather than just a few months. Switching jobs carries a level of risk I was once too terrified to even consider, for fear of losing tenure and the security of medical benefits that came with it. Not to mention that the responsibility of managing my complex schedule of doctors' visits has now  been traded for trips to the vet and a groomer. 

Life is strangely normal, and I think what makes it so unfamiliar is that I have spent so many years now living a life that's anything but. It was that 'new normal' they tell you you'll find when you get cancer, a normal that's strikingly not. But here I am, the only remnants of cancer hidden- faded scars under clothing, a few pills each day to replace hormones chemo stole, and a bracelet cautioning lymphedema risk. I'm not sure I ever would have ended up exactly where I am now if I hadn't gotten cancer, but that doesn't really matter, because when I look around these days, I like what I see. So now that I'm here, I think I'll stay.

Hope, Love, Run,
Marathon Girl