There are NO new developments in this post. I do not have dates for PET scans or doctor’s visits. Feel free to skip right over this post 🙂 I’m sharing it for my heart.
Want to hear something weird… On the Seattle Snow day(s) a couple weeks ago, I noticed that people were saying “hi” and generally greeting each other on my morning walk with “Franklin the tripawd”. Now, I walk through Ballard a zillion times a week and a million times on weekday mornings and no one, ever, ever says “hi”. But when it snowed, everybody was like “Hey!”, “Hi!”, “Good morning!”. I am not making this up. It was like we were in the Midwest. Can you figure that out? Me neither, but I’m guessing it’s simply a sense of connection over something unique, or special. Or maybe a shared sense of joy, or at least the possibility of it?
I think the same thing happens when bad shit happens to our people. I feel an acute sense of connection. Or maybe it’s some serious ego-tripping/self-centering on my part? It likely is that to some degree, but I wonder if when there is a possible break, severing, or strain on the connection that I share with other people, it magnifies the connection. Or maybe it just freaks me out. But I want to reach out, grab it, or reinforce it. And experience it. Certainly, moments of joy bring us together, bonding over something special, like a walk in the snow, but it seems more powerful for me when it’s moments of grief and fear. (I have my theories about why this is, but I’ll save that.)
These are acute feelings, eh? And pretty overwhelming. I don’t walk around all day in joy or grief or fear for the most part. (I’d be so exhausted all the time.) Connection is powerful and necessary and maybe we shouldn’t wait for joy or grief or sorrow or whatever to share that connection. Maybe we can practice it, just like that coach had me do, so that we all feel connected. And seen. And heard. And felt. And understood. And needed. And that, indeed, we do belong.
I once had a coach who had me practice feeling connected to every person I interacted with. And then, after I practiced that for some time, any one I was physically close to. And then the coach asked me to find a small sea of people and feel the wave of connection between everyone. And I did. I felt it, but only for a short time. (It was surprising to feel not tripping on mushrooms. J )
I know a few people who are good at this. Most of us aren’t. I am not. I think about people I knew decades ago almost every day, but I do nothing to experience the connection with them. Instead, I stay by myself a lot, which I like. But I miss out on having a need met when I do that too much – the human need of love and support in action. Being witnessed is a need. Belonging is a need.
So, let me try to strengthen that connection a tiny bit. With you. Maybe. Just a tad.
In my experience, and I’m sure many of you have already had your own experience with this, (unfortunately) but there are moments (some longer than others) when I completely comprehend, to my core, that cancer could kill me. That my life could be a whole lot shorter than I’d expected. For me this is the wildest, most raw, and profound feeling. And it is terrifying. At least at first. The depth of fear and sorrow is really something to experience. It’s an aliveness that is incredibly hard for me to hold.
I know I have curiosity around these feelings and thoughts when it’s not me, so in no particular order and with ZERO expectation or assumption that anyone else has the same experience as me, allow me to share with you what has run through my head when I’ve had this experience.
Complete shock is usually the first thing. Getting a cancer diagnosis is a little like hearing that fish fly. It goes something like this… “Huh? Okay. Right. Can you repeat that? What is happening, again?” But that gives way pretty quickly when you’ve had the diagnosis before. When Ted was first diagnosed, we went through the whole, “how could this be happening to us?” thing. I didn’t have that thought with my first diagnosis. I knew it could be us. But I was shocked this time. Man, I thought I was done.
Having to tell my kids. This is huge and absolutely Un-FUCKING-bearable. I mean it is really, really bad. I can think of a couple worse things but not many, safe to say they all involve my kids. The depth of sorrow and fear is overwhelming.
Figuring out what else I want to do in my life. The first time I was diagnosed I just wanted to see my kids grow up. I remember thinking, I’ve lived a lot. I’ve experienced profound love. I’ve seen a lot of the world. I don’t really have a bucket list of stuff I want or want to do (in fact I’d love to get rid of some stuff. Send me your address and I will ship you a box of stuff.). But this time I had something. It was… wait for it… to replace a couple of chairs and rugs that have been bugging me forever. Also, a new vacuum. Go figure. I’m way less interesting than even I thought.
What will they find? The conversation in my head went like this, “Holy shit! What am I leaving behind? I better go through my computer, my phone, my photo albums, journals… to get rid of any incriminating evidence of who knows what.” And then, “Wow, that sounds like a lot of work, so forget that”. I figured I’d be dead anyway, so I have nothing to worry about, and I don’t think there is anything really trauma-inducing to discover. Also, highly doubtful, but maybe they’d find something that’d make me more interesting or mysterious?
Feelings of regret. I don’t remember much regret last time. But I don’t trust my memory for diddly squat. I read through that journal from ten years ago. One day I was like, “I’m so freaking angry at cancer and being a cancer patient”. And then, a few weeks later, “I’ve never been angry at my cancer”. We can’t trust me. But regret this time… it was painful. Why haven’t I been a stronger voice for the oppressed? Why haven’t I used my privilege and why didn’t I build a platform to help as many people as I can? I know I am capable of that, but I haven’t done it. And that felt like a disappointment. I haven’t created as many opportunities for myself to help people as I’d like. I’m not being hard on myself. I really am not. I’m just sharing what I saw and felt clearly.
Everything I will miss? Whew, this is a biggie. I had brief feelings of relief thinking I won’t have to live with the global warming disaster that is definitely coming or the looming civil war (I’m a realist, remember) but those were short. The biggies are my kid’s lives…seeing their stories unfold. Also, my mother always told me the 60’s was the best decade of life because, “you just don’t care at all what anyone thinks anymore”. So, I’d like to see that decade, at least for a bit.
What’s important and worth spending an iota of energy on becomes crystal clear. And I can tell you, it is not much. Like almost nothing. Love and people and animals are pretty much the only answer. Just kindness, connection, truth, and witnessing one another… and laughter. That’s about it. So much love becomes very clear and very felt. Things I was holding on to as needing to be “fixed” in a relationship hold no weight anymore.
You have to understand how absolutely powerful and often unbearable some of these thoughts and feelings are for me. (Not the chairs so much…) Experiencing the idea of death that closely when it doesn’t feel time to die is challenging for my brain to compute. Holding that depth of sorrow… wow… it is something to feel. To me, it’s a bit like labor, I kind of remember the pain, but I can’t really. I can’t feel it the same way. I compartmentalize. I use denial. I even use positivity (says the pessimist/realist). I do this to survive. To not be laying on the floor in a puddle of anxiety and sorrow. (Which I’ve been pretty close to a lot of days.)
It might seem like I should be talking about these things more. You’ll have to trust me that I do not always want or need to talk about them. Sometimes I just want distraction. Sometimes I just want to talk about you. Denial is not a bad thing. It’s a useful tool while our minds grasp at parts of reality.
In fact, I could use a little more denial today.
Thanks for reading. Thanks for doing something for yourself today. You deserve it.