It has been important for me to remain emotionally neutral throughout this cancer experience, to not be swept away by the tides of optimism so many tell me to rely on or dragged into the darkness of negativity that can literally kill a weaker soul. Both are risky propositions and so it has been best for me to stay grounded, to acknowledge the positives and the negatives, but not to rely upon them.
I have faced down the darkness, however. I mean, I’ve lived my entire life thinking about a future, just accepting that, despite life’s inherent risks, that I would live to an old age…or at least live to a point that I had absorbed every moment of life I could seek, then let the weariness and fatigue take over. Still, I just KNEW I would live to an old age. We all sort of accept that right? So after the diagnosis sunk in, I did face down the darkness. I had to. I had to consider the possibility of a shortened existence, a possibility that remains, so as to figure out how best to live my life in the context of this moment.
But I couldn’t dwell upon it. I couldn’t accept it as inevitable. I just had to SEE it. I had to KNOW it…and then go back to that comfortable middle ground, that safe place of emotional neutrality. I had to just sit and wait it out.
And I’m still waiting.
But now the waiting is coming to an end. SOMETHING of an end. On Tuesday I will have another infusion, another poison flooding…the 10th of 12. Double digits. And so close to the end. Or…AN end. An end of the SCHEDULED treatments. But here’s the catch, that may not be the end of my infusions at all. My body is handling the treatments so well, despite a noticeable, but still slow digression of abilities, and so the potential is that there may be more. But they won’t last forever.
Still…I’m coming to some sort of an end to these treatments, and it has become much more difficult to stay in that safe, grounded spot of emotional neutrality. Suddenly, despite my weakening state, I’m imagining a future. I’m imagining an extended moment of relief from all these debilitating side effects, these painful feet, cracking fingers, sensitivity to cold, numbed appetite, feelings of overwhelming grossness, and so on. And I’m oddly allowing myself to embrace that future, that HOPEFUL future…because…well…I need to. I’ve faced down the darkness already, and I’ve remained stable and protected in this space, but I need more. I don’t work well in this middle ground. I need more intensity….more fire. And so I’ve begun imagining that precarious future.
Granted, I don’t know what the future holds still. It remains unwritten and will for quite some time I believe, but that doesn’t mean I can’t imagine a moment of relief from all this dying and hopefully engage with the life I once had, the life I so desperately want to retrieve out of this darkness.
And so now I’m imagining that moment of relief, whether that is before the coming surgery, the continued killing of more cancer, or the period where we raise the white flag and say, “well, we did our best.” The ultimate outcome doesn’t matter just yet…what really matters is having a period of relief where I can live my life again, of which I can imagine in this moment.
That is what I’m doing right now. Accepting a future.
My profile photo on Instagram is of the character Jonny from The Breakfast Club, in the very last still of the movie where he walks across the field in a moment of triumph and episodic intensity. Something about that moment…something about that moment struck me deep. It’s infused with such a tempered honesty, a breaking free from a moment of struggle to come out victorious on the other side..and that’s what I want. That’s what I imagine my future will be like. A worn, tired, but ultimately victorious moment. That’s what I pretend anyways…at this moment. That’s what I want.
But it’s not just that emotional moment. They are specific experiences I imagine. I told one directly to my coach at our end of the year dinner last night.
“I have this image in my head…that gets me through the day…I think about saying to you, ‘Ok. This is it. Let’s start at mile one. Let’s start from the beginning and work our way back up.'”
I want that experience to be made real, so badly.
I want so many running experiences actually. I want to tear through the trails of Brown County again, on 4 hour excursions from one end of the park to the other and back, seemingly getting stronger deeper into the run instead of weaker, tearing around corners and charging up the switchbacks like a predator chasing a prey. Like I used to. I want to run workouts on the boardwalk of Ocean City, New Jersey, circling the route again and again as I chase down faster and faster mile splits. Like I used to. I want to solo the 6 x 1 mile workouts on the rail trail where I crossed every finish marker under 5 minutes flat, feeling superhuman and accomplished for days after. Like I used to. I want to fight against the feeling of dying legs and lungs as my teammates and I push and pull each other around the track through the humid summer air and our fear-inducing 10 x 800s workout. Like I used to. I want to kick out 20 milers in the silent dead of winter and pitch black morning, finishing as the sun breaks the horizon and begins to wake the rest of the city, coming back home to warm pancakes and warmer coffee. Like I used to.
I want all this to be made real so bad. And now I’m starting to imagine they WILL be real. I’m letting this happen. My body is fighting against me right now and actually making long, consistent running next to impossible, but this also tells me we are getting close to an end…some sort of end.
And maybe, just maybe, no matter what the plan is for the future and no matter if the prospective outcome is hopeful or dire….I imagine a space of life where I can feel what it’s like to run free again. To live with a love that isn’t hurried by a sense of desperation, but more settled for a long, accomplished existence. To parent with an eye on the larger picture of my son’s development, to know I’ll experience his accomplishments alongside my own. To simply relax.
I’ve faced down the darkness and know deeply it’s reality, and I’ve sheltered and protected myself as I’ve waited out the degeneration of these repeated infusions, but right now I feel I need to let go a little more and start looking at a future, whether that is an unrestricted life towards the end of cancer or a completely liberated existence after cancer.
The future is still unwritten…but at least the story I write now can have an ending I desire, an ending to live towards. I’ll allow myself that much.
In the end…I want to walk across that field, worn, tired, but still strong enough to raise my fist in triumph. That’s going to be my finishing scene…
…just before I start all over again.