The Lost and found boxSeptember 18, 2015
At my work, there’s a large plastic tub that has become the holding cell for many lost items. Shoes, lunch boxes, sweaters, and mittens, all abandoned and waiting to be reclaimed by their owner. I sometimes wonder if there is a similar plastic tub in our minds, filled with misplaced abilities, collecting dust as they wait to be jostled from their resting places and put back into use. It may seem strange, but my ability to hope and dream got thrown into this metaphorical box sometime after cancer entered my life.
Six months. That’s how long I gave myself after each appointment. Six months. From the day the stomach cancer (GIST) was removed in January 2007 to my last appointment at the London Regional Cancer Center in July 2011, I lived six months at a time. Every six months, my mom and I would make our way to London for the CT scan. Two weeks later, I would do blood tests and nervously receive the results of the scan. Each time I would prepare myself for the worst. Each time the results came back negative and I would allow myself to plan the next six months.
Doing this for six years created a cycle of fear and relief. You would think it would get easier, but it never did. Outwardly, I became numb to it, but in actuality I was internalizing it in an unhealthy way. The fear of recurrence became a normal part of life. I started to expect the cancer to return, like a thief who only took half the loot. Cancer hasn’t come back for the rest of me yet, but it did take something from me that I didn’t anticipate: My ability to hope and plan for a future.
The first time I realized I couldn’t see past six months at a time was when Dave asked me to marry him. At first, I was excited! But then I felt incredibly sad for him, guilty even, for letting him marry me. Marriage is supposed to last a long time, not just six months. Will I live long enough to make this marriage “worth it” for Dave? In the end he (re)convinced me that he didn’t care how long I lived and that he wanted to be with me every day I had left. I gave up the guilt, dared to dream, and jumped into marriage. I’m so glad I did. But then I went back to living six months at a time.
Planning our finances together was really difficult for me. Three years to save for a new car?! 10 years to save for a deposit on a house?! Retirement?! It was as if there was a block in my head that stopped me from planning further than six months. I couldn’t seem to make plans or decisions that far in advance. What was wrong with me?!
Last year, seven couples we know all got pregnant around the same time (there was definitely something in the water that year). Dave and I started talking seriously about kids and that “six month wall” had apparently become VERY high. What if I have children and the cancer comes back? What if I die before they are grown? I wanted children, but it made me incredibly depressed to think that they may grow up without a mother and that Dave would have to raise them on him own. I couldn’t dream of being a mother knowing that this was a possibility. It was just too painful. Motherhood was the biggest plan I had had to face so far. The deep seeded fear that the cancer would come back and ruin everything froze my ability to dream, ironically ruining everything.
Working with a psychologist has helped enormously. My husband has also been a tremendous support. Slowly I’m learning to hope again and to plan past six months. I’m starting to see the value in aiming for a larger vision for my future even if I’m not sure I’ll see it through to the end. I am still fearful of the cancer returning, but I am growing in my courage to plan into the unknown. I had let cancer toss aside my ability to hope and dream. It is now time to reclaim it.