There are times when writing doesn’t come as easy as it normally does. As cathartic as it is for me sit and write my thoughts and feelings, sometimes they are simply just too jumbled up to put on paper. Please forgive the rambling nature of this post. It is much lengthier than normal, and much more confused; but these are the thoughts running through my head these days and as jumbled up as they are in written form, you ought to witness what’s going on in my head! Thank you for bearing with me in this lengthy tome, and hopefully by writing all this confusion down I can once again get back to the joy of sharing glimpses of post-cancer life with you in the future!
When I was little, there was a song from the 1950s that I liked to sing. I really don’t know how the little tune got stuck in my head. Maybe my parents watched the Hitchcock movie that Doris Day sang it in while I was around, maybe it was still popular on the radio in the late sixties, or maybe my mom–who did a lot of humming around the house as she worked–used to sing it. All I know is that the song was a childhood favorite of mine–so much so that it is on my iTune playlist decades later.
The title, Que Sera Sera, literally means whatever will be, will be. Often I find myself humming this little song when I need a reminder that life is what it is and we must simply accept it for what it is and move forward with grace. I guess it’s a more pleasant way of telling myself to suck it up and deal with it.
Right now I am at my mother’s home, visiting as she once again faces the decision whether to try a different chemotherapy route to treat her Stage IV lung cancer–a journey she has been traveling for over five years. While she was resting yesterday, I read this blog post by The Sarcastic Boob, reposted by mainlyhopeful. This article made me stop and think of things which I have forced to the back of my mind for quite a while–all the normal questions that flood over a cancer patient as they turn the corner into the world of cancer survivor. Sometimes these questions, and others like them, flood through the minds of late term cancer patients, as well. What do you do with your life when you no longer fit in the ranks of warrior/patient/fighter and finally find yourself in the much-wished-for status of survivor/post-treatment? At what point does this question cease to matter? What do you do if cancer returns? When does life fully resume it normalcy and cancer no longer plays a role in your day-to-day thoughts? When can you stop the fight? Do you even want to?
Life for the rest of the world continues on at the same pace as before. A never-ending circle of appointments, commitments, blessings, curses, fears and joys spinning chaotically around in a turbulent mass of confusion. But for the cancer patient during the days, weeks and months of treatment it seems like life slows to a standstill. Things still happen around them, events still take place, people come and go, but the patient in treatment is focused on only one thing–fighting to live. When that long-wished-for-prayed-for-dreamed-of day arrives and again they are thrust back into the land of the chaotic, stressful cycle of life, a tangled web of thoughts and emotions swirl inside the survivor’s head. Where am I? How did I get here? How do I stay here? Why is it all so difficult to manage? How do I survive this mass of confusion spinning recklessly out of control all around me? Do I even want to?
It’s scary to think that last question could even cross the mind of a cancer survivor, but let me tell you, IT CAN–and it does. It’s not that you want life to end–after all you fought the battle of a lifetime just get that lifetime back. You fought to win. Now you are faced with the question: what exactly did you win? You won life in the real world. Not a fantasy, not an idyllic dream, but messy life in the messy real world.
But the real world seems a different place than it was before your journey. In reality, you are a different person and the world is still the same chaotic, mixed-up, confused mess it has always been. We as survivors have fought hard and relentlessly and have been dreaming of the day when life would be gained and peace would reign supreme. Only it doesn’t.
Just as it did before our diagnosis, life continues to give us hurdles to jump, burdens to bear, crosses to carry, other illnesses to face, sadness and stress to overcome. The desire to just relax and enjoy LIFE–to do enjoyable things with loved ones, try new things, see new places, experience new experiences–has to take a back seat to the daily “getting the job done” just as it did before our diagnosis. The world seems not to care that we want something different, something more.
For many of us survivors life was a lot less stressful and chaotic before our battle with cancer, simply because we were able to take the easy, everyday tasks for granted. We now have to think through our daily tasks, prioritize our everyday mundane chores. There’s not enough energy to make it through all the things that must be done, so we must pick and choose the most important. Gone are the days when we could perform our daily tasks with blind and unthinking “muscle memory.” Living and doing takes a lot more energy than it used to–energy many of us no longer have.
Sometimes the easy tasks, like getting dressed, take more time because we simply can’t feel the buttons in order to put them through the buttonholes–our hands continue to be numb after weeks of toxic drugs coursing through our veins. Sometimes lingering balance issues make maneuvering around stoves and other household equipment a seriously dangerous endeavor. Sometimes residual fatigue makes getting through the daily routine without a nap a thing of the past–or else we fall asleep in our mashed potatoes. Often, chemo brain continues to plague our ability to stay focused long enough to remember what tasks we need to get done, or keeps us second-guessing whether we put the towels in the dryer (often we didn’t)!
This is not the life we envisioned as we sat hooked up to our little friend, the infusion pump, for our regular treatments. This is not what we dreamed for ourselves as we fought our way through the trenches of cancer. Now this world we so desperately wanted to rejoin seems a very unfriendly place. A place where we have difficulty maneuvering. A place where most people have no idea how we feel, why we feel that way, can’t come close to understanding, and sometimes it feels as if they don’t even care to understand. Why can’t we just get past it?
There is a reason many cancer survivors are diagnosed with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), and why many people outside the cancer battlefield have no understanding of why a cancer patient could be diagnosed with a disorder that is commonly reserved for the soldier. What the world doesn’t understand is that cancer survivors ARE soldiers. We have faced war. We have faced death. We have faced destruction. We have been fighting. Just like a soldier returning from battle, we no longer fit in the real world…the world not filled with constant battle and destruction and sickness and death. We, like soldiers, merely want to rejoin the world we left the way we left it–in all it’s naive, innocent, pseudo-peaceful normalcy. We have been changed. We no longer see things that way. And life is now filtered through a different lens.
The other reality is that once we pass through the ranks from newly diagnosed to patient to survivor, our view of the world we left behind might possibly be a little skewed. In our euphoric dreams of a bright tomorrow, we saw the yesterday we left behind as something far more perfect than it really was. The reality of life is that for every person on the planet, every day is a battle of sorts. Questions arise, tasks need completed, jobs to perform, crises to overcome.
In the struggle for survival on this harsh and sometimes unforgiving planet, it is our choice to determine how we’re going to face each of these hurdles. Do we face them with grace and compassion or do we face them with anger and frustration? Do we choose to continue the fight, do choose to crawl in a hole and give up, or do we choose to take each situation as it comes, living through each moment as best we can, trying to glean the most from each experience without struggling or complaining? If we choose not to fight is that giving up or is it simply a matter of letting go and living in the moment?
As I watch my mother struggle with the decisions she again must face, I too struggle with how I would handle those same decisions if I were in her place. Were I in her place, would my filter be one of continuing the battle using every available weapon, or would I put on my Whatever Will Be lens and simply want to try and enjoy what time I had remaining before it all is gone? And in the giant scheme of life, is either filter truly more correct than the other? Each individual has his own choices to make and those choices are only right if they are what is best for that individual and those they hold dear.
Sometimes fighting is good. Sometimes it is necessary. Sometimes it is the only road you are offered. Even in the midst of the fight, we can learn to accept whatever life throws our way. Que Sera Sera. Whatever will be, will be. Because in the end, we have very little control over what life actually tosses our way. What hurdles, battles, crosses we must bear on our journey from birth to death. We also often have very little control over what joys are casually tossed our way like bones to a hungry dog. What we do have control over is how we accept each one–hurdles and joys; crosses and blessings; battles and victories.
I’m not sure what the answer is–or if there is even a question. Life is truly a confusing riddle, a mixed bag of goods and bads and otherwise. I know when I face each day with my faith in God on solid ground and a confident grip on my que sera sera philosophy, that day seems to be much more peaceful and joy-filled, despite the aches and pains of the hurdles I must jump along the way. But that is simply what works best for me. Que sera sera…