And she is right.
Most people have stopped calling or texting to check in; meals are no longer delivered; bracelets have been taken off; fund-raising has come to a halt; and the focused attention on me is non-existent.
But I can hardly blame anyone.
After all, the minute there was no cancer found on my scan, my view of myself and my needs changed, too.
We all sighed a collective sigh of relief, then jumped back into our lives--the ones we were unabashedly living before taking a hiatus to focus on me as I wrestled head-on with cancer.
I dove back into my old routines as quickly as I could once I left the oncologist's office that beautiful day when she told me my cancer was gone. Within days, I returned to work full-time with the same energy and stamina I had before cancer; I resumed my walking and yoga routines; and I began to live life as though cancer was never a part of it.
I got so busy, so fast, that I haven't posted a blog in 4 weeks, and I rarely keep Facebook apprised of how I'm doing these days. I've barely had time to slow down with this new schedule.
It has even been difficult for me to remember that just last month I was still flat-out on the couch recovering from chemotherapy #6. It feels like another lifetime, one that I was only vaguely a part of.
I had cancer?
It doesn't seem possible, nor real.
But, wait a minute...
Although I'm clear of cancer, that doesn't mean I'm altogether out of the woods, either.
I am just finishing three weeks of radiation that has been uneventful and relatively easy. My 2.5 minutes on the "hot seat" happen at the end of my workday, five days a week. The most tiresome part of each day is driving thirty minutes each way to and from my sessions, just to show up for a few minutes. This new routine is boring and intrusive.
But radiation is also potentially dangerous and I'm not entirely through with this cancer journey yet. Everyone keeps forgetting that, just as I do.
Since radiation kills fast-growing cells (just like chemo), and the area of focus is my chest, I was warned that my throat may feel sore and I may experience heartburn as my esophagus' lining becomes vulnerable to breakdown. I was also told that if it happened, it would be near the end of my 20 sessions since my radiation dose was so low.
But after just seven sessions last week, I felt a stabbing pain just below my throat when I swallowed a stewed tomato from my lunchtime soup. It continued every time I swallowed, like nails were scraping the inside of my esophagus. It wasn't exactly my throat that hurt, but the area below it, so I assumed I was experiencing the side effects I'd been warned about. But when I met with the MD that same day, he confirmed that it was too soon to be troubled by side effects.
He also peered down my throat, but didn't seem concerned. He handed me a prescription for a lidocaine cocktail that would numb my esophagus so I could eat, and I was sent on my merry way.
But the lidocaine didn't help.
In fact, the soreness only got worse. You'd think that as a nurse I'd be worried about Strep throat, but it never crossed my mind to consider it a possibility. Probably because never in my 55 years have I ever had it.
By day #5, I was still choking down food while wincing, so I finally called the doctor. She wasn't worried about Strep, either, but recommended Ibuprofen to curb the pain. I am not one to reach for medications quickly, so that hadn't crossed my mind, either. She described my symptoms as the "perfect storm": a possible cold virus combined with the beginning of radiation side effects.
It is moments like these when I want to raise my white flag. I'm no longer is severe distress, but I'm tired of this on-going, seemingly never-ending journey. I want to quit walking and sit down and rest. I want my life back. I want to quit worrying about new symptoms while feeling paranoid about old scary ones.
This transition into the life I lived before cancer has been slow.
I jumped back into parts of it, like work, but the rest still feels disjointed with several pieces dangling. I feel overwhelmed about how to move forward. And there are so many people to contact after falling off the grid for six months.
My house is disheveled after 6 months of ignoring it. There are birthday balloons from July still floating around my ceiling, and the weeds in my yard are choking whatever has been trying to grow around them.
My coaching business feels dormant, ready to spring anew, but can it be revived considering the lull it has taken?
I've had to remind myself to take it easy through the end of the year. After all, it has only been six weeks since chemo was completed. I've experienced a severe trauma that needs patience and tender loving care as I navigate my way back into my life while I create a new future.
But I have no idea what that future looks like, or what I want it to be. My coach thinks that's a good thing, to not have a clue about my next steps. While I find it somewhat freeing, I am also a woman who likes to plan. And I have no plan this time.
As quickly as cancer stole my life, it also gave it back to me when I wasn't exactly expecting it. But more than feeling jubilant about it, I mostly feel lost.
There is a need inside of me that has to know what this was all for. There has to be a reason that cancer interrupted my life and I don't want to miss or waste that lesson. I've written my theories about what it meant, but what do I do with that information now?
My world view has changed, but little else has. I work the same job, live in the same house, surrounded by the same people, doing the same things.
I feel an enormous responsibility to change something, or do something in a big way, but as I see the finish line just 6 radiation sessions down the road, I can't help but choke back tears of immense joy. On November 16th, just a week before Thanksgiving, I will be done.
This journey will be officially over.
The best I can muster today, as I see my future opening up, is to bow on bended knee in deep gratitude that I was given another chance at life.