[guest post by Michele]
In the middle of Andy’s cancer treatment and for an untold duration thereafter, I desperately wished for someone to just tell me when it would probably be behind us. I yearned for that singular powerful instant in which to say cancer is over and we had moved on, that one definitive celebration that represented freedom. Its promise kept me going some days.
Little did I know that the disruptive intensity of cancer’s arrival would never be matched in its departure. Like grief, healing has its own convoluted timeline with its fits and spurts, its painful lulls and setbacks. Andy’s recovery as a patient, mine as a caregiver, and ours as a family were rarely if ever in sync. Routine and observable milestones seemed entirely irrelevant to the process. In truth, nothing about healing or recovery bore remote resemblance to the chronological time that had once appeared so steady. This was wildly unsatisfying.
Some of you know that this experience prompted me to forgo time entirely for a bit. It seemed so unreliable. I began to form plans only at the last minute and grudgingly at that. If pressed to advance plan, I always couched it as “probably” and “possibly”. Every “commitment” had an exit strategy, many of which were executed. Plans that went as planned were truly a surprise to me when they occurred. On a birthday, I announced that I would age in reverse for a bit and I believe that I actually did.
Our latest observable moment is Andy’s release from oncology patient status. Is this it? Is this our moment? He transitions from the discomfort of monitoring to the, albeit milder, discomfort of freedom and release of the safety net. Pre-scan anticipation, “What if there’s something? How much has it changed? What if it is overmonitoring?” will be replaced with the occasional, “What if it returns? How will we know?” This is the very essence of #lifewithcancer.
To be clear, we have no complaints. Far from it. Our lives are more healed than ever before. I recently made a haircut appointment weeks in advance and then actually showed up for it, a milestone that Andy instantly recognized. We are intensely aware of surviving, of the luxury of recovery, because we know too many for whom clear scans and release from oncology patient status may well be unattainable. But milestones beg reflection, and this is a truth rarely told. Turning points of healing can be subtle, ill-defined and sometimes only seen in retrospect. Most of ours were. They require an insightful eye and an open heart. Observable metrics like time are overly simplistic and leave much to be desired. Yet we celebrate them nonetheless.
To all the open hearts that supported our recovery, and to all who continue to celebrate milestones with us – both time-bound and less concrete – we remain so very thankful.