There was a time when cancer was a long drawn out time in my life with many recurrences and aftereffects that never stop.
I didn't think much of it at the time, but lately was made aware how it might have had an impact on others.
So, I wrote some friends. This is what I asked:
Were you affected by it?
Do you have one memory in particular that stands out in your mind?
Was there maybe one moment of inspiration or discouragement that came from the experience of knowing me and knowing that I had a history of cancer?
Was there some realization that came to you that touched your life?
Even if the way my cancer affected my life after I was done with the worst of it?
Did you gain some new understanding by knowing that I had that experience?
A dear old friend who I hadn't been in touch with for a while responded:
I think perhaps the most important thing to consider is the uncertainty of having a friend who is uncertain about her future. At the same time as you seemed positive that you would be alive the next year; you also seemed to be reluctant to plan very far ahead. And I suspect that you often missed opportunities in your life that would have required a long-term commitment to something beside your disease. Now I don't know you well enough to know how many of those opportunities were simply impossible because of your disease, and how often you might have used the disease as an excuse for not doing something, or how often the simple uncertainly of not knowing what the future held made it see impossible to plan ahead. But I'll bet that if you had known that you would still be here at the age you are now, after all these years, you would have planned a lot differently and would have taken advantage of more opportunities.
I was deeply touched that my old friend had these insights and it got me to thinking about them. Most definitely I would have lived my life differently if I knew that I was going to survive. But, I think I wouldn't have treasured life the way I do. I don't think I would have dared to do so many things as I have. (I didn't care if I was taking a risk, after all, I was going to die anyways, was my attitude) On the other hand, I could have completed my education, could have planned on a career, an income, a retirement fund.
I can't say I would have had a marriage that would last, or a home filled with children. I did get married a few times. Having cancer return over and over again can really stress out a marriage. Having long term medical consequences due to the cancer, but not the cancer itself, can be terribly confusing, not only to husbands, and families but friends and strangers as well.
Sure, I might be able to hiking one day, but be laid up in bed the next. Gives people conflicting messages. You know what I mean?
I actually did have a home at one point, a job, not a career, but hope that I might be able to work permanently, but those dreams were dashed. So owning a home, became owning a 1947 mobile home, if you can call it that. A trailer home is the right word for it. Beyond that never again. Always a renter. One time in a tent for a short while til a friend took me in.
For me, it's true... Home is where the heart is.
The more I think about it, I realize I am deeply touched by what my friend wrote. His insight gave me a intake of breath, and something to think about that had never occurred to me.
I don't think I ever gave much consideration to the uncertaintly that others might have felt about my own uncertainty in making plans. Though, I think I had grown used to being aware that some others cut off being friends because I couldn't always keep a date to do things with them. Plans for out to breakfast or a movie, or whatever, often had to be cancelled on a moment's notice simply because all of a sudden I didn't feel well. And that doesn't always win friends who want to someone reliable. Not everyone understood the fluctuations in my health. Usually whenever anyone saw me in public, I looked okay, so because I wasn't seen as unwell, it was hard to believe there were times when I couldn't function. And of course I seldom went out when I wasn't well, so no one ever really saw me that way. They just couldn't make the connection.
One thing I have no regrets about is, even though I wasn't certain about the long term future, it just made me live for the moment, and take every opportunity I would not have considered in the past, had I been without the long term history of cancer.
It turns out having cancer became a gift for me. Gave me rights and freedoms, I never would have considered before I had cancer. Sometimes I took chances with my life that were dangerous as I mentioned earlier. Mountain climbing in a rural area in high heat, with a camera taking, lots of film but no water. What was I thinking? I just wanted to capture beauty on film. But without sufficient water? Stupid, yes. But at that moment when doctors were telling me to stay home and wait it out, I felt I had nothing to lose but my life, and damn it, I'd rather go the exciting way. Why stay home in bed to die, if I can help it? Get out and DO something! If there is a will, there is a way, they say. I could barely walk that day, had to use a cane. But, it was worth every struggling step, every drop of sweat, and the joy of seeing my child explore the wilderness, while Mommy poked along. Don't worry, he knew not to wander off.
Of course, there were those days when all I could do was just lie abed and just wish I could be somewhere else. But, those days have their own special qualities, too. Some not so great. But, there's always something to gather from ones' experiences. Don't you think? One can learn from the "negatives".
My dear friend was right about my having missed opportunities in life I didn't always have a nagging feeling maybe I wouldn't be around long enough to meet a goal, any goal. That's why I never had a career, though I had a plethora of jobs and volunteering, and going back to school under auspices of Vocational Rehabilitation, in order to return to work. Imagine my disappointment in learning I had a return of tumor to put the kabosh (sp) on it all. I had taken the pre-requisites for medical school, Well almost.... still missing a few credits. If I had firm hope, perhaps I would have gone back and finished, but I did not.
Then, there were all those years I just kept going to school for the sheer sake of the joy of learning, regardless of outcome. I changed majors constantly so I wouldn't have to graduate. I could do that here in CA, don't know if it can be done elsewhere.
My life always seems incomplete. I feel everything has been interrupted. Hopes and plans are not allowed. Keep everything short term. That's the way to live my life, because you never know when cancer is going to come back and change all your ideas, change your geography, change your group of friends.
There's a few things I do wish I could have done. Have my artwork known, and published, for example. I've written a lot over the years but never disciplined enough to polish anything off. Besides, starting things is what I do. There is no promise of fulfillment. So, the starting of things is fulfillment enough. I have so many unfinished stories, a collection of unmatched poetry, a ton of diaries, so many different styles of artwork..... nothing finished.... nothing finessed.... incomplete.
If I still have one thing I'd like to do, I'd write my autobiography. Well, in a way I do that anyway, but I wish it could become published and make an impression on other people's lives.
"Did you read that book about the woman who had cancer, lost one of her kids to adoption, had all those failed marriages with men who couldn't deal with her illness? Wasn't it amazing how she learned to walk, when they said she couldn't? And she's still alive after all this time. Her cancer was so rare. I've never even heard of it. Have you? What was it called anyways? I forget. But, I will never forget that book!"
Pipe dreams. I'm not a celebrity. It wouldn't sell. Blah! Still I write, though not well organized.
And still, there is so much more to write..... Maybe here is good enough.