Clean scans mean new growth
In places more welcome than
Rogue cells and worry.
I am indebted
To live beyond boundaries
Erected of old.
Clean scans mean new growth
In places more welcome than
Rogue cells and worry.
I am indebted
To live beyond boundaries
Erected of old.
As incessant as my thoughts tend to be, there are many times when I shy away from reflecting. Eventually, however, I had to reflect on why it made me nervous, and so here I am sharing my discoveries.
1) Reflection reminds me of how terrible my memory is, and stirs that small yet deep-rooted fear that I have forgotten most of my life and will continue forgetting until there is nothing left I remember.
2) Reflection forces me to evaluate, and while I am happy in moments, I am never happy with the progress I’ve made. I seem to perpetually stagnate, and that also frightens me.
With the recent start of 2018, it has been impossible to avoid conversations about goal-setting and, of course, reflections on the previous year. Examining 2017 has made me realize that more often than any exterior force, I hold myself back from achieving my goals.
You’d think that after surviving cancer twice I would have gained that go-getter, goal-achiever, ‘live every moment like it’s your last’ mentality, but it’s escaped me in many ways.
Have I gained confidence? Yes.
Have I tried new things that I never thought I would? Undoubtedly.
Do I still get discouraged easily? Absolutely.
I am still cautious. I am still discovering my limits. And yes, sometimes I am afraid to push those limits. The healthier I become–the more ‘normal’ I appear and the more integrated I become into society–the more I am ashamed of my perceived lack of progress. Why am I still so weak? Why am I still constantly exhausted? How do I still lose my keys almost every damn day?
I try very hard to be happy with where I am and how far I’ve come. Many times I succeed. But many times I fall prey to that comparing mind that says my small steps are not enough.
“Why can’t you be like those cancer survivors who have climbed mountains with one lung and are now inspirational speakers? Why can’t you be the survivor who went to school and worked out during treatment and afterwords wrote a book? Why can’t you be a survivor who gets up every morning on time and wins a fucking Nobel Prize for being A-Most-Exemplary-And Humanitarian-Survivor-And-Advocate-Who-Cures-Other-People’s-Illnesses-With-Just-A-Smile?”
There is a cult of inspiration society has built around survivorship, and sometimes it makes me feel as though going through cancer should have imparted me with some superhuman motivation.
One thing cancer has bestowed upon me, however, is the fear not only of failing (to remember, to reach my goals, to be a ‘good enough’ survivor…) but of recurrence. I started this post with a time stamp of 1:48 AM (though now it’s 2:27 AM) because in a few hours I will have my 2 year follow-up CT and appointment. And I am nervous. I am afraid. I am not the perfect, fearless survivor. So I have let my worries build until I had to set them free, and face my fears of reflection.
Two years ago, I wrote a blog post. I had very recently moved to a clean apartment post-transplant, and I was determined to document my progress with my health and fitness. I posted photos of my atrophied little body, and I started doing yoga every day.
Thinking back on that post has been an emotional roller coaster. At the time I wrote it, I remember that even the muscles in my face were tired at the end of the day from smiling and talking. I could only do about ten minutes of yoga at a time, and it all had to be on the floor because I would become exhausted by standing for longer than a minute. That was a time when I was determined, and even though I was frustrated with my weakness, I wanted to get back to normal.
Did I stick with the goals I set two years ago? No.
Has my health/exercise/wellness routine remained consistent over the past couple of years? Of course not.
Have I made progress? Yes.
When I was terribly ill, I worked hard to become normal… and I never really succeeded. You can never be the person you were before cancer, and after cancer, ‘normal’ doesn’t seem quite attainable or enough.
I think that evaluating survivorship can easily be dis-/en-couraging.
Yes. I believe it can easily go either way. I have come so far from not being able to stand for hardly a full minute two years ago, and yet it’s been two whole years and I haven’t climbed a fourteener. Rather than be hard on myself for not being a super-survivor, I think this post has inspired me to make a belated New Years Resolution: hold myself to my own standard, and don’t let fear of failure stop me from further progress. These fears I have exist. I acknowledge them, and I will (try to) move on.
I hope that my “after” post later today brings good news of continued remission so I can work on this goal in health, but if not…
I guess I’ll tackle that when the results come.
“The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the foreigner, denying them justice.”
What happened to the days where everything was spiritual?
Why do we politicize morality as left or right when it should be right and wrong?
Love is right. And love demands action.
Feed the hungry, care for the orphans, widows, the least of these.
Empower the refugees, the immigrants, the transgendered and the queer. Support black lives, Muslim lives, Latinx lives and more. Nurse the sick, the cancer patients, those suffering from mental and physical illness.
Give until it hurts.
Kill only with kindness.
Your first and foremost identity should be as a human being, not a liberal or conservative.
And as a human being, you are first and foremost required to love.
“Don’t just talk about love. Put your love into action. Then it will truly be love.”
Don’t turn people away, mock them, disenfranchise, or murder them.
Sex and skin and birthplace do not define you or her or him or them.
Have we forgotten the golden rule?
Is it so easy to dismiss those perceived as other?
There is no excuse for any action that does not build each other up.
And if you are being torn down or are tearing down, ask why.
Why I am hated? Is it for standing up for justice, mercy, truth, compassion?
Then so be my persecution.
Why am I hating? Is it for some identity others possess that I have been taught is unacceptable? Do I hate those that I do not understand?
Then so be the justice doled out upon me for my hatred.
“But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
Remember justice is not hate; justice is born of love.
Speak loudly, firmly in the name of justice, but speak truth. Speak mercy. Do not speak more hate.
No heart is enlightened by receiving hate.
Only love changes. Only love heals.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud…”
We’ve heard the words. Now breathe them in and act them out.
I will not be soured by hate,
But ravaged by love.
1 John 3:18
1 Corinthians 13:4}
It’s currently 12:15am on the morning of the day I am supposed to graduate from college. All week I’ve been listening to the excited chatter of my peers (many of whom absolutely excel in their respective fields), but all I want to do right now is cry.
When I began my undergraduate journey back in the fall of 2012, I was confident. I was coming into college with 32 credits under my belt from taking AP classes in high school where I had pretty easily excelled and ended up graduating with a 4.125 GPA.
I’m not telling you this to brag, I’m telling you to paint a picture. I was a young student used to success and used to feeling intelligent. I never felt particularly attractive when I was younger, I was terrible at sports, and wasn’t really exceptional at anything other than writing English papers–but I always had my intelligence. I didn’t spend a lot of time studying, I enjoyed reading and writing, and was a naturally good multiple choice test-taker. Academia was suited for me, and I for it.
My first semester of college, I got a 4.0, but that rapidly changed. Whether it was genetics, the trigger of ending a tumultuous and abusive long-term relationship, latent post-cancer effects, whatever (probably a combination of many things), I began to struggle greatly with depression. Still, despite my setbacks with trying to find the right medications, sleeping through tests, and skipping tons of class, I managed to keep afloat. Kind of.
With those initial 32 credits out of the way, my original plan for undergrad was to graduate in 2015 with a BS in Psychology and a minor in Religious Studies. Now it’s 2017, and while that minor has changed to a BA in Philosophy, I don’t feel like I deserve to graduate. I’ve struggled to put this into words for my loved ones, and usually just talk about how I hate graduation ceremonies or tell people that they don’t need to feel obligated to attend, but I’ve been doing this because I feel like an imposter.
I still try to cling to my intelligence/academic skill as a part of my identity, but the truth is, no matter how much I love school, I have failed to live up to my own expectations. Frankly, most of my college classes have been easy (with a few notable exceptions). I honestly feel like I would have breezed through if it weren’t for all my stupid mental illnesses. And the cognitive effects of chemo brain definitely haven’t helped the situation. I forget everything, feel foggy, and just can’ t work as efficiently as I used to. If only I could have overcome my depressive symptoms and memory issues, or gone to class or studied, I know I could have gotten an A instead of a B or C. The material wasn’t difficult: I just never put in enough effort.
And that’s why I don’t feel worthy of walking across that stage tomorrow. I am tired of people congratulating me for my mediocre efforts. I want them to look at me and say “hey, we know you could have done better if you’d have tried harder.” Part of me understands just how irrational this is, but the larger part is just so disappointed in myself. Every semester of undergrad, I’ve started out strong, telling myself that “this is the year we’re finally gonna get our shit together!” And every semester the same spiral of depression and anxiety buries my good intentions under a paralyzing need to remain inert.
In 2015, I wasn’t sure if I would even live to see this day, so I made an even stronger promise to myself during chemo: “we’re gonna use this. This experience will be our fuel, and we will use our gratefulness to thrive. We’re not going to take our education for granted, and we’re going to do everything right this time.” But here I am again, trying not to cry, sitting alone in my underwear, listening to ABBA radio and wondering how the hell I ended up back at the bottom.
I desperately want to succeed. I love philosophy dearly, but I’m terrified that these destructive patterns will follow me into graduate school. I’m terrified that my future school will see all my mistakes from this semester and decide they don’t went me anymore–I wouldn’t accept me anymore. Mental illness is nobody’s fault, but even with everything I know about how my illness works and manifests, I can’t help but fall back on these thought patterns, these barbed ‘should haves’ that make me feel unworthy. Lazy. Stupid.
So today I graduate. I don’t know if I’ll be celebrating, but it’s happening regardless. I guess I’ll just have to come to terms with the new, post-treatment me, and keep trying to find strategies that will help me with school in the future.
Sweet red wine to sour grapes
Feeling my body with no escape
Falling down since there is no up
All thoughts runneth from my cup
Each pretty drop supped by forked tongues…
Water to wine to innocent blood
My flesh unleavened, formed by mud
Fortune told in star-dust’d veins
The veil is torn but blindness remains
Each little hope from flowered trees hung;
Or hanged–but willingly–each dizzy breath from a Judas tree.
I am a broken record.
Celebrating small victories and inescaping smaller anxieties.
I really am a positive person. Really. I think that people are fundamentally good, and I never lose faith that one day I will show up to an appointment on time. However, I’ve realized there is a disconnect between my general attitude and my mental illnesses that confuses people—confuses me. How can I laugh and smile and post photos on social media of how much I love all of my friends while simultaneously being completely paralyzed by anxiety and depression? I don’t know how, but I know that I can. Because I am. Always.
I really do feel like a broken record. Like people reading this blog must think “Goddamn, all this woman talks about is cancer and mental illness. Get over it.” But both are a huge part of my life and I will never be over them.
I think that’s the scariest part about both major depressive disorder and cancer: they’re always with you. I had a weird stomach pain a few weeks ago which caused a panic attack because I just KNEW I had another tumor. I called my oncologist’s office to make sure I had a CT coming up (and I do, in a few weeks). Of course I told my parents about it and freaked them out, even though I told them it was probably just me being paranoid (which I’m pretty sure it was). Cancer doesn’t just affect you, but your loved ones too. Same with depression/anxiety. I am constantly calling my older sister and my mom on the phone, telling them that I can’t get out of bed or that I have so much to do that I’m too overwhelmed and I can’t do any of it.
–You know that feeling when your heart starts racing and you almost pray that you would just pass out to stop your mind from spinning because you KNOW what you have to do and you just. can’t. make. yourself. DO IT. And you’re letting yourself down, and your professors down, and your parents down and everyone is falling down down because this is a spiral and you’ve been following it for so long by now you know there are no emergency exits that you’re willing to take—
I hate that I have to burden others with my problems. And I know I’m on a down-swing right now because I’ve been isolating myself. Skipping classes, avoiding talking about my feelings. Keeping it arbitrarily light. Because I really am a positive person. REALLY.
In general I think things tend to work out for the better, but the more depressed and anxious I get, the more difficult it is to keep myself from dwelling on the problem I’ve been confronting for half a decade now: I will always feel this way. I will always have to struggle to be happy.
I’ve gotten pretty good over the past year about talking positively to myself and giving myself some self-compassion, but I’m exhausted. Constantly. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. I’m in school in a beautiful city studying a subject that I love dearly. I am really healthy (all things considered). I have wonderful relationships and a job that I’m passionate about. I’ll be working the best summer job ever and then going to an awesome grad school to keep studying philosophy. My life is amazing, and I still have these problems.
I have never written a post to garner pity. I just need to express the feelings I have that I can’t bring myself to speak aloud. And again, I’m sorry. Because I know
I am a broken record.
More random notes found in my phone. Enjoy.
Cigarettes and nesquik;
How old are you again?
Your mouth speaks ancient,
But your eyes still search for anyone’s approval.
What more can I offer you than my words?
It’s always the same
–letters words thoughts–
For an old thrill dressed
Miles to go
With minutes to follow
Dropping dead like flies
But still buzzing
That constant hum
Of tracking flesh
While death trails behind.
There may be maggots
In my mouth
Muffling the words and
Choking all thoughts not of
Escape, but I will
Spit out some swallow others
Make myself heard.
There is a truth known by corpses
Why skeletons smile
How the living dread
The end but the dead
Fear not living, just watching.
Empty sockets witness the procession growing
As I march forever forward towards the welcoming abyss.
Are you the moon, my darling?
I am pulled to you like the gravest of tides.
My heart is open to the sky
And even when it out-pounds the river rushing,
The feeling is not lost.
I think I love you.
Keep trudging and slipping,
Tongue-tangling those thoughts…
If only you could read them-
Unmangle masses and
Love me too.
What breaking smiles,
What over-worked heartbeat could you
Possibly know that all I want are your fingers
Intertwined with mine,
That you skip beats thinking about me
As I do you.