“No one is standing in your way anymore; it is time to move forward.” – Chinese Fortune Cookie
“What time is it?”
Just over two months ago on Tuesday the 3rd of July 2007—ironic but fitting that this would occur on a Tuesday since Tuesdays were my chemo days—I found out what I already knew and what I had known for almost six years: that I was cured of cancer. And yet, two months later I am still thinking about hearing that phrase pass over a trained physician’s lips. What is different about knowing something and hearing someone say that same something out loud? I will never know the answer to that question, but I know that the difference exists. The feeling is like that of being completely exposed, completely vulnerable, and totally empty as if the world had slowly come to a halt and everything stood still for a split second.
And then it was over.
And then I walked outside into the world of beauty that is my old Kentucky home and felt as though I was merely an extension of the earth, a fluid piece of matter that was floating effortlessly on the wind, swaying with the trees, absorbing the sunlight, flitting across the sky to take in the multitude of life that surrounded me and to realize that there is never ‘nothing’ going on. Surreal is the only adjective that can even come close to describing the feeling.
And, ironically again, as everyone else was experiencing the exuberant celebration of my being “cured,” I felt a quiet sense of sorrow that I never could quite explain. It was simply there standing beside me like an old friend prolonging his imminent departure. He was not the only one prolonging for I was holding just as tightly as he. “What happens next? Where do I go from here? How does one end an era?”
My reticence came mainly from fears: a fear of the unknown, a fear of the question of “where will I go from here?”, a fear of not knowing, a fear of being physically ready but emotionally unready and unwilling to be “cured,” since being diagnosed—along with all the wonderful people who have played such a huge role in helping me through a difficult time—literally saved my life. Although the emotional and physical have always been parallel, the physiological part of me has always been racing far ahead of the emotional trail leg. The fear was that the gap was too wide and unbridgeable. If I am “cured,” how can I justify still dealing with the effects of something that has found itself at such a definite end? Can one put a limit on working through emotionally charged events? Is there a deadline? I had dreamt of this day ever since that day in early September 2001 when I was officially diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s Disease and found out that one of my lungs was 97% blocked and only by the grace of God and a good helping of motherly intuition was I prompted to see the doctor in the first place.
I had dreamt of this day and knew that it was going to come. I had every confidence in the world that I would pull through…but somehow it was as if I was working toward an unreachable goal, an elusive dream that flitted in and out of my consciousness never settling down long enough to actually feel “real.”
The real is here and I am cured and, honestly, I feel as if I am starting from the beginning all over again. As frightening as starting over can be, it is also strangely liberating. We as cancer survivors can throw the cancer card; we have the privilege of knowing life in such an intimate way that most people cannot even imagine. We also have a responsibility to help our fellow adventurers along the way and turn the seemingly devastating diagnosis into liberated living.
“What time is it?”