Happy National Cancer Survivors Day! This has always been a good time to take pause and reflect on where I’m at, where I’ve been, and where I should be heading next, as NCSD aligns with my annual mark checkups. (My next follow-up is in two weeks). This year I’m realizing just how much life has changed since cancer entered my life, and how far I’ve come in this journey. I’ve built quite a nice place for myself in this ‘cancerverse’, one in which I can thrive and really enjoy life again. I’ve learned to understand my pain, how I need to live, how to overcome, how to keep my demons at bay, and have surrounded myself with wonderful people that have helped me to get there. I’m so grateful to so many, and love the new life after cancer that I’ve managed to build, but I’ve also been very homesick as of late, too.
I read Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg’s post last week on the sudden and unexpected death of her husband, Dave Sandberg (CEO of SurveyMonkey), and was immediately drawn to tears and struck by just how closely I related to much of her pain experiencing the loss of a spouse. Please give it a read if you haven't. In no way am I equivocating the loss of a spouse, or any loved one, with the diagnosis of a cancer that’s survivable in most cases. That’s a pain that I don’t know, and that I hope to never know, but I still couldn’t help relating so closely to so many of Sheryl’s words. Having the rug pulled out from under you, and crying yourself to sleep so many nights in such distress rings a few bells. The feeling of having aged decades emotionally in such a short time, and feeling the need to open up, but also needing to close down at others, rings some more. I, too, have had to learn how to ask for help. Men always like to think that we have everything figured out, but cancer made me realize that I knew and understood nothing. I needed help finding my way again.
The pain that we share, and part of what we mourn as cancer survivors, is the loss of life as we know it.
The pain that we share, and part of what we mourn as cancer survivors, is the loss of life as we know it. In an instant, everything we knew or thought we knew about life is upended. All of our plans, and our hopes and dreams, goes up in the air with the words, “you have cancer.” All of that optimism and certainty about life, and that false sense of security that everybody seems to have vanishes in that moment, and we never get that back. I still miss it, but you can’t go back, and I know that I’ll probably never feel that way again. Friends whom I love and adore talk so casually about things they want to do in 5 years, as if it’s a sure thing. Even now on my fifth National Cancer Survivors Day, that’s still a terrifying thought to me - waiting 5 years to do something you really want to do. I scream “No!” in my head. That’s too long! Life doesn’t work this way. If there’s things you really want to do that you’re passionate about, you need to do them now! Today is all we really have, and anything could happen tomorrow. I'm fully aware of how contradictory it is to have never enjoyed life more than I have in the past few years since cancer with the desire to keep going, yet still longing for that completely lost ability to be so relaxed about life, like I always was before cancer.
The tears fell as I read Sheryl’s post about her late husband and the first 30 days of her grieving process, because it took me back through so much of the same pain, just with a different type of loss. So much is similar, and I know just how painful life becomes when the rug is pulled out from underneath you. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do to come up with a “Plan B” for life, right when I was finally able to start appreciating just how solid “Plan A” was. Although you’ll never truly be able to replace the loss of a loved one, it’s good to reflect and take a trip down memory lane once in awhile. It helps us to identify voids in our lives or areas where we’re still hurting, and perhaps in time we’ll find ways in to fill those voids and enrich our lives further in our new “Plan B” lives.
Some days, the best we can do is to simply survive and nothing else. Celebrate Life!
As survivors, National Cancer Survivors Day is a day to celebrate that Plan B no matter where you are in this journey. If you’re clearing away the rubble and just starting to lay the foundations of life after cancer, lost and bewildered with so much pain still weighing you down, this is still a day you’ve survived and that’s worth celebrating! We didn’t plan for this, and none of us ever expected it, yet here we are, struggling as we do, trying to get our lives back in order once again. Some days, the best we can do is to simply survive and nothing else. If that's all you can do today, rest assured that many others have been there. I've been there. Celebrate life. Rebuilding my life from scratch after cancer is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but don’t ever give up, and don’t ever stop believing in yourself. Surround yourself with the right people that can connect with you, and love you and support you through so much pain, and never stop living or enjoying life! Not only will you manage to come up with a Plan B for your life, but you’ll be able to kick the crap out of it too!
Happy National Cancer Survivors Day, and may God bless the Sandberg family in their time of need, and cancer survivors everywhere.
Cross-posted at StevePake.com