This last month of the year is often a bittersweet mix of light and dark; of satisfaction, and regret. Daylight is fleeting, especially when storms darken the sky; nighttime is long, and those hours after midnight can give rise to our blackest worries. Let’s take this opportunity, as the world turns toward a new year, to say goodbye to the year just past – good days and bad – and to this particular slice of our life.
Einstein’s theory of relativity is easily understood when you consider it this way: two years in your life – the year you were 7, and the year you turned 40.
As a child, the days, weeks, and months that made up that single year in your life seemed endless. The tedious wait for you birthday, or the last day of school. The 2-hour trip to Grandma’s at Thanksgiving – “HOW LONG till we get there?”
But your 40th year? A whirlwind of kids, sports, meals, moving up the ladder at work (or simply trying to hang on), juggling, juggling, juggling… It passed in a flash, didn’t it?
That’s relativity: the exact same amount of time, from two perspectives, can feel very different indeed.
The same is true when you’re experiencing cancer. Those first few days after chemo, spent in bed or wobbling from one task to the next, are measured in long minutes. But the week before your next treatment, when you’re full of energy and feeling almost normal – it goes by so quickly you barely have time to enjoy it before you’re sitting with that big needle in your arm again.
Maybe this past year has felt like one long chemo session to you – from diagnosis to surgery, the start of treatment to its end, you’ve slogged through days and nights that melted into one another, becoming one endless, painful blur. 2012 will be a year you’ll never forget – though you’d love to wave goodbye to it permanently.
Or maybe this was your fifth year after treatment – that critical year we all feel that little twinge, knowing that this is the year we’ll fall on one side or the other of those 5-year survival statistics.
After 5 years, your oncologist may start extending your appointments to just one a year – or s/he may wave goodbye to you entirely, saying your risk is no longer higher than any other woman’s.
Was this your fifth year? Say goodbye; you’re starting a new chapter, happily beyond the stats.
If you’re 10 years or more out, like I am, this past year has probably been one of continued healing.
“What, you’re STILL healing, 10 years after cancer?”
That’s right; you’ll find, as the years go by, that cancer is an experience that changes you forever. You accidentally step in front of a speeding car and experience a sudden brush with death – scary, right? But when death continues to lurk in your body, even if ever so slightly, it changes you.
Where once you thought of long life as a probability, now it feels like a possibility. Where good health was a blithe and thoughtless assumption, it’s now a gift.
As the months and years go by, though, you do find cancer losing its grip. As a good friend once said to me, “There comes a day when the first thing you think about every morning isn’t cancer. And then there comes a day when you don’t think of it at all.”
I’m not at that point yet, and probably never will be. But that’s my choice; cancer changed my life in a positive way, and I don’t want to forget all the good things it’s brought me: the love of friends and family, a deep appreciation for the medical community, and the chance to help other women going through it.
But while cancer has been good to me this year, it’s been devastating to so many others. One of the women I counseled early on in her experience passed away this summer. I watched her go, unable to do anything but bear witness as her family surrounded her with love during her final suffering and passage.
So I’m saying goodbye this year, too – to one of us who didn’t make it. To all of us who didn’t make it. To a year that was up, down, and in between… and another year beyond cancer.
As survivors, ultimately every year is a good year – because we’re still here to live it.
Here's to 2013!