I keep calling this California trip my “victory lap”, an extension of the post-chemo party. But the truth is, except for the when I look in the mirror and am still (always) momentarily shocked that the woman starting back at me is kinda bald, cancer feels like a distant memory.
Except for when it’s not. Because while I mostly feel pretty great and happy to have made it through and out the other side in one piece, I also feel a little out of sorts kind of like I’m in limbo.
The last time I was in La Jolla, I was filming scenes for an Animal Planet series. I can remember driving these streets, along the beach, through the hills and walking Torrey Pines State Park scouting for the perfect locations. That was seven and a half years ago. It seems like another lifetime.
My friend Michi described her own experience with cervical cancer as “surviving a head on collision with the universe.” And while I feel lucky that I made it through chemo in better shape than most, I understand what she means. My eyes are sunken and lined with dark circles, I have scars on my chest and arms (from the port and the rashes, respectively), my joints ache and I’m still tired most of the time. I feel like chemo has aged me at least 10 years. Kind of like what happens to dudes after they become president, except I don’t have to worry about who has the nuclear football.
In the coming weeks as my system starts to detox and heal, I know my body will move back toward normal. I also know that emotionally and spiritually, I will never be the same.
I never wanted the cancer to define me. Even before I started treatment, words like “survivor” made me cringe. I thought somehow I was different, special. I wasn’t going wallow in the “cancer experience” or get bogged down by it. Cancer was something to move through, to get past on my way back to my “real life”.
But my life has sort of taken on this dividing line: before 2010 and after. And as with a lot of things post-2010, I get it now. My perspective has totally shifted. Now, like Ringo, I"m just happy to be here. Now I see cancer not as something to “get over” or move past, but a place to grow out from.
A yoga teacher once told me that the word limbo gets a bad wrap. That if you can embrace the uncertainty, limbo is a really powerful place to be. It's where all the juicy stuff happens that prepares you for the next phase of growth.
I know this whole experience has changed me, I’m just not totally sure how. That will reveal itself in its own good time. For now I will settle for some sand between my toes and the knowledge that while I may not be special, I’m something better. I’m a survivor.