Where do I begin? Well, I've taken a few weeks off from writing because I have been in beautiful Alberta; we started the trip with a cancer retreat and finished with visiting some friends. To be honest, it has taken me a while to get back into the swing of things but I am slowly getting there.
The retreat that we went to was for young adults who are/have facing/faced cancer (ages 18-35) and it is put on by Young Adult Cancer Canada and the cool thing was that both survivors and supporters were invited. If you are a young adult who is facing cancer, you need to check out this group. Anyway, we spent from Thursday afternoon until Monday morning together and we discussed issues that affected us youngins in a different way than those who are in their 40s, 50s and 60s who are dealing with cancer. Issues like fertility, financial instability, isolation (from friends, family, or even other older survivors), recurrence, and many many more were discussed. It feels so good to connect with so many other people who 'get it' when the people in your life who are the closest to you couldn't possibly understand what you're going through. I loved that everyone at this retreat understood that cancer doesn't end when treatment does and I think that's a hard one for me to try to explain to those who are around me.
Anyway, I had said in my previous post that I was nervous that I maybe had some lingering issues that I had not dealt with since my diagnosis but after the retreat, I think I am relatively well adjusted. The one thing that I definitely realized was that I need to be as gentle with myself as I am with others. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be the best cancer survivor that there is (whatever that means) and I am slowly learning that there is no right way to do this whole cancer thing - there is only your way of doing it.
As I said, after the retreat, we then explored Alberta a little bit and then headed back to Ontario last week. I am slowly getting into the swing of things but I am a little slow at finding my routine. Now that I am back into my routine, I had agreed to do an interview this week for a cancer article and one of the questions that they sent to me (part of a guideline) was 'If you could go back to your 25 year old self, what would you say to her?'. That question has stuck with me ever since I read it. What would I say to her? Take cancer out of it - what would any of us say to our younger selves?
I took a long time with this question and I think I came up with a few answers. First, I think I would give the 25 year old me a hug and without trying to scare her, try to convince her that she was strong enough to do just about anything. I know I wouldn't tell her that cancer was in her future and there would be no 'live life to its fullest' but instead I think I would keep it simple. I would tell her to keep laughing even when it gets so hard, laughter really has been my best medicine. I would tell her to cherish her relationships because it is those relationships that will outlast any careers, money, or belongings. I would tell her to slow down and absorb the day instead of trying to get through it and say 'yes' when a friend asks you to go for drinks - sleep can wait - working early the next morning is no longer an excuse.
Then, once I was finished thinking about the past, I started thinking about the future. Exactly 52 weeks ago from tomorrow, I started chemo. I find it hard to remember my life before cancer, before worry and fear and oncologists and rogue cells. I find it hard to remember my life before I knew what chemo felt like and when I had two breasts and when having a baby was a choice not a hope. I sometimes find it hard not to talk about cancer anymore because it has become such an important part of my life. I find myself trying to change the subject when I was the one who originally brought it up just because I feel like I am making others feel uncomfortable. Every time I look at my hair, it's a reminder that my wish is to have long hair but my reality is that chemo made me bald.
Even with all of these thoughts and the overwhelming impact that cancer has had on my life, I am happy. I'm sure that cancer will not be as consuming as time moves on and my oncologist appointments are farther and farther apart but until that time, I plan on being happy. When I say happy, I don't mean a smile on my face and in a wonderful mood all the time - I just mean doing my best to follow the advice that I would give to the 25 year old me; know that you are strong, absorb the day, cherish all of your relationships, new and old, and for God sakes, keep laughing.