September 2011, I celebrated the end of treatment for cancer. I threw a party and invited all my friends. The problem was that my journey had left a big gulf between myself and my friends. While I didn’t know near as much as I do now, I knew I needed to live a different life. I was no longer the person I had been. I had never been that woman. Many of the things I had done didn’t bring me any joy. Not that anyone was aware of this. I was a master chameleon. I had even fooled myself. I was living a very typical Midwestern life, and there is nothing wrong with that life unless it leaves you empty.
I was tired from all the treatment and I had to wait six months before I could have reconstruction surgery. I was deeply depressed, but I was able to think again. Chemo brain had lessened. I had begun to question my doctors. They had suggested I start on a five-year treatment with a pill called tamoxifen. I wasn’t excited by the possibility of side effects, but I agreed to start it.
One day as I drove my hour commute to work, a song came on the radio. It was Nickleback’s Lullaby. I found myself sobbing. I had never connected so deeply with a song. I had heard it plenty of times, but on that day, it told me exactly how I was feeling. It was then I realized that I had spent the last two years healing from cancer only to wonder what the point was. I wasn’t at the point of suicide, but I was close. This life wasn’t worth living and if I had to continuing living it everyday chances were, I wouldn’t make it.
I quit taking the tamoxifen. One of the side effects was depression and suicide. When I told my doctor, she wasn’t the least supportive and said to me “well, we’ll just put you on it when your cancer comes back”. She was my third oncologist. Her lack of support and understanding sent me looking for yet another oncologist. I was going off a drug because I couldn’t manage the side effects and her response was to tell me I’d end up back on it.
I made the mistake of not telling my husband, and it may have been the first time I became conscious of the disconnect that was happening between us. I had told my father, and he had told my husband. I wasn’t actively keeping it from him, but I realized I hadn’t told him because I didn’t want his opinion to influence my decision. Up until this point I don’t believe I had been aware of how much I let him opinion influence mine. Or maybe I found his influence acceptable. When you’re in a relationship, it’s no longer you, but us, right? What I was discovering were my own needs ranked higher. I didn’t have the energy to defend my decision to my husband so instead I avoided the conversation. By the time the conversation happened I was already walking down my chosen path. It hurt him deeply. I understood that, but he also continued to remind me of it. A seed of resentment began to grow. Yes, he had lived cancer with me, but it wasn’t his body, it wasn’t his death he was facing.
I was angry at this point. So very angry at a healthcare system that treats people like statistics. A system that tells us that drugs and procedures heal us instead of helping us to understand it’s the body that heals. Much of what is done to us is a testament to how resilient humans are. In a way, my anger may have been a purpose. I would show the doctors they were wrong.
The lack of care and support I received from my cancer doctors left me with deep wounds, but it also taught me that a doctor doesn’t heal you. Doctors aren’t gods. If my doctors had been personable and supportive, I never would have started doing my own research. I wouldn’t have come to understand the physiological, psychological, and spiritual aspects of the diseases we suffer from. I wouldn’t have understood how important nutrition is. I wouldn’t have come to see how I needed to find a reason for living.
Still I struggled to find stable ground in my life. I was trying to eat healthier, but my family wasn’t very supportive. Daily life in our society isn’t very healthy. It’s why so many people are ill. As I discovered things, I would try to implement changes. My husband would give me a difficult time about it. I said we needed to grow our vegetables organically and instead of looking at it as a new experience, a challenge and a chance to grow and learn I constantly had to defend my choices. I was trying to rebuild my life, but my life was entwined with his. He didn’t like change. He never had. I would spend years struggling against his needs and mine trying to find a balance. I blamed myself. I wasn’t good enough. I was selfish. I was lazy.
The next couple of years I would work to change my life, our life, but I would be fighting a battle not just against society, but against my own family. People might agree with me in theory, but then they’d go right back to the self-destructive behavior and make me feel out of place or a burden. When a caterpillar goes into a cocoon it is liquified before it transforms into a butterfly. I was being liquified. I would try to go back to my old life, but my heart would be whispering this isn’t right. I would try to move into something different, but it would mean I was hurting all those that claimed to love me. Every way I went there was pain. I would stay in that pain for a while, but each hurt would push me closer to becoming who I wanted to be. I was being liquified so I could transform into something more true.