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Colon Cancer was my lemon. Surviving it, and now thriving in my life, is my lemonade.
On August 30, 2011, I found myself living out my dream. I was playing at the park with my two sons. It was not an easy road for me and my husband to get to this point; it took 4 years of infertility treatments, countless medical procedures, strange and experimental drugs and finally a surrogate mother. I had finally made it and here I was, a mom enjoying her time with her kids.
And then my cell phone rang. In that instant, the idealized dreams of my husband and I simply raising our sons suddenly became much cloudier. I had just learned from my doctor that I had colon cancer.
I would be forced to quickly shift gears. First and foremost I had to focus my resources on being the best patient so I could fight the cancer. However, I did not have the luxury of giving up the title or responsibilities of “wife” or “mother”. So what are the job descriptions of a full-time patient and a full-time mom? Let’s just say it takes multitasking to a whole new level.
In order for me to be there for my family, my first order was to cleanse myself on both an emotional and spiritual level. It was time to clean out my closet–out with any toxic thoughts or wasted energy that did not serve me or my family. I had to obey strict doctor orders…sleeping, eating, drinking, walking, praying, meditating and sometimes just lying still. My routine included appointments, tests, scans, surgery, chemotherapy and more testing. There was constant prodding, hurting, throbbing, poking and feeling just plain old yucky.
These patient responsibilities required full-time attention, and were not easy assignments while simultaneously raising two young boys under 3 years old. It was a complete contradiction and by far the hardest thing I have ever done. The 24/7 commitments would not go away; I had to remain unselfish, devoted and loving. Before I was diagnosed with cancer, my title of “mommy” was everything. I changed every diaper and attended to every whimper.
Many things I would normally manage, that were part of my rhythm as a mother, had to fall by the wayside. But that was ok. I selected what was critical for my family and made certain that those things remained a constant in our home. I had no time or energy to waste.
In 2013, I found myself back at the condo in Florida where I was exactly one year prior, at that time right in the middle of my 12 rounds of chemotherapy treatments. I walk the same beach. I look out the patio at the same pool. And yet, it all looks so completely different. Being here reminds me of just how very ill I was just a year prior. I realize how little I could mother from that condition. I realize how little I could enjoy. I remember physically barely making it down to the beach. And once I got there, I would have only enough energy to lie on the lounge chair and close my eyes.
But not today, nope, not me. Rather, today, I am the one who is running down to the beach with my boys. We kick off our shoes and run barefoot. It is pure joy. I feel freedom. Like having been released from prison. The prison for me was chemotherapy. My body is all mine today. Mine to be healthy and free. My boys and I giggle as we run the wide-open beach. I look straight into the ocean and I feel pure gratitude.
Yes, just one year ago I lay in bed most of my days. I did this for months upon months. All the time, dreaming about the day when my chemo would be completed. I remember walking out of my last chemo treatment thinking, now what? My life as I had known it was no longer. This was a new life. As my friend, also a recent survivor told me, this is my “new normal.” The survivor label in fact reminds us that cancer is an extreme experience that divides one’s life into before and after. Life as I knew it was no longer a reality for me.
And, that it is. I must say, so much of the newness is liberating. I no longer carry the same level of anxiety, anger or resentment towards things I did in the past. I no longer look for everyone and everything to fit into my perfect picture. I am much more nimble, easy going and open. I bounce more. While I still, like all humans, have moments of energy being consumed by trivial things, they no longer eat at my inner self-confidence or lessen my joy as they did in the past. I have peace and love that I never experienced before. I know how it is to fight for your life. I know how it is to suffer. I was so down and feel, only now, that I was sprung back into life with a new force of energy.
Yet, many of these negative feelings have been replaced with a different kind of fear of that I have never felt before. As a cancer survivor, you often feel you are walking a tightrope and that everything is so fragile. And, in those moments, processing the terrible trauma shakes me to my core. Unlike people who never had cancer, you know just how fragile the human body is and just how close death resides. It is an enormous emotional burden to carry.
I am now trying to face that fear. Look it in the face. Close my eyes and enjoy the feeling of falling. To envision this pit in my stomach with the same excitement that I have when I am skiing down a mountain, riding a roller coaster or “falling” in love. I am striving today to turn my fear into power, into centeredness and awareness.
I strive to do this most consciously as my role as a mother and a wife. My children and husband need me to be aware. They need me to dial down my inner voice so I can hear, see, and be present with them. They are my greatest joy. They are my heart and my soul. I love everything about my three boys. My three prince charmings. My three heroes.
My lemonade is that I am now more present than I have ever been in my life. I focus on being healthy; in my body, my mind and in my relationships: my relationships with my friends, family, neighbors, community and most importantly, with myself.
This spring I celebrate three years of being cancer free. I pinch myself to make sure this is real. Am I really here? I’m healthy, raising two beautiful souls and doing it with my best friend & hubby for over 11 years!