Wednesday, April 15, 2009

One Year Later...

It is 11:55 pm, April 15, 2009. It is the tail-end of the one-year anniversary of my double mastectomy. I didn't even realize it was the one-year anniversary until I was at my therapist's today, and she asked me how long it had been since the mastectomy. Then it dawned on me and I said, "Exactly one year ago today." People celebrate all sorts of anniversaries, but this particular anniversary is extra-special.

Okay, give me a moment. One year? Has it really been one year already? I vaguely remember the terror that I had on the eve of April 14, 2008-April 15, 2008. I didn't sleep a wink and took my last bath at 3:30 am. I watched the sun come up as I walked with DH and my parents to the hospital (we live practically across the street from it). We crossed Fraser, passed through Robson Park, waited for the pedestrian-controlled light to turn green, crossed Kingsway, passed the Thankga Buddha store, and walked down into the outdoor parking lot of the hospital. I held DH's hand as we waited for the doors to the surgical daycare unit to open at 6:30 am. And if you want to hear the rest of the story, you can go back one year on this blog.

And that's what I've been doing tonight. I've been going back through my blog. I laugh in some parts, I shudder at others, and I almost cry and can't finish reading some entries. It's just a little something that I started writing for my friends and family when I was diagnosed in July 2007, but it became something bigger. I still get media requests for interviews about my blog, that has somehow touched other cancer patients, survivors, and those who love them. I found some purpose in what I had been going through, and one of those things was to educate the audience about what it can be like to go through cancer treatment at a young age, to be a mother to two young children, a wife to a successful man, and a professional woman getting another graduate degree--to be a cancer patient during a time when your life is just starting to make sense and come together. And then, you're not so sure about any of that anymore because now, you could die a lot sooner than you ever thought you would. The thought that I struggled with on a daily basis: I finally have all this--and now, NOW?, I have to leave it all?

A year later, I'm still struggling with that question.

Let's get this straight: as honest as I am in this blog, I frankly don't report EVERYTHING. I mean, who would? There's lot of stuff that we go through every day that is just too lame or annoying or tiresome to tell anybody. Plus, I respect the privacy of my loved ones who might not exactly enjoy being showcased here. But I know some of you might have heard that DH and I have been going through an extremely rough patch in our marriage. And you could be asking yourself, What's this have to do with your cancer? Well, if it had nothing to do with cancer, I certainly wouldn't be talking about it. And if I even thought that it had nothing to do with cancer, then I'd say I was in complete denial.

The truth is, cancer took a toll on us. It's funny--I hear so many "success" stories--those that involve The Journey and The Reawakening or The Enlightenment. And I'm not saying that I haven't had those kinds of moments in my own journey during this past year and a half. But if you're looking for a certain kind of success story where everyone lives happier than ever post-cancer, this isn't it.

It's the one-year anniversary of the cancer being gone, and I'm celebrating it alone. In a way, that's fitting. Cancer is a really existential experience. You go inwards to places that you never even thought of, so far in you almost disappear. It really is one of those things that unless you've gone through it, you have no idea what I'm talking about. And that kind of experience is really difficult on the caregiver. Here is this person that you're trying to help and take care of, but they are so sick--so dying--that you can't reach them, that nothing you do will save them from that end. Truth is, we all come to an end. But to witness it day after day after week after month, for a whole year--that's another kind of torture and existential experience that is not understandable to someone who has not gone through that either.

For us, our experiences didn't match up. You might think that from the way I describe these experiences, that they share similarities, and in recognizing that, the two parties could help one another through the suffering. I can only speak from my experience obviously, but that was not the case for us. What happened? It's not that neither of us didn't care about the other's suffering. I feel that it was just the enormous sense of helplessness, from all around, that did us in. And during the months after the surgery, we tried very hard to rebuild our lives, but that pain and suffering ran so deep in each of us, that it was too late for damage-control.

It's a bitch--facing death at the age of 31. You look at your husband of three years, your children who are 3 and 4 years old. And you're just stunned, breathless. How? Why? Two simple questions that take the wind right out of you. And you see it in his eyes, in your husband's eyes--that mixture of courage and fear. He has to be strong for you, but truthfully, he's scared shitless. What do you do with that?

I can't tell you the story from that moment to this one. It's too painful for me to try to piece together the remnants that I still carry. DH and I have faced moments like the one now, here, in the present, way too many times--much more than a couple of our age ever should have to. And it's that tightness in the chest, the way you look through your tears into the light bulb on the ceiling, and you know that if you survive this moment, you can survive anything. And you will.