Thursday, March 15, 2012

Fending off Shadows Cast by Cancer

In the chill of a recent winter morning, a friend of mine clutched at fragments of courage and will power as she stepped onto a path she knew and dreaded. Eleven years ago, we met on this path, linked by a diagnosis of breast cancer. In circles of women haunted by cells grown into menacing masses we shared apprehensions and side-effects. Year by year, we met to celebrate one year, then two, until we rejoiced at ten years of survival. Safety seemed ours. Life returned to “normal.”

Now, I’m feeling the sharp jerk of a choke chain that breaks such arcs of optimism. A new lump, a new threat, a new form of breast cancer, is dragging her back to the vials and tubes of chemotherapy. It is redefining “normal” for both of us.
No Safety in "Normal"

Cancer Walk April 2002
If this can happen to her, it can happen to me. The shadow that had almost dispersed hovers too close once more. It reminds me that “normal” life holds no safety from this menace. At eleven years out from treatment my risk of cancer has not disappeared. It’s the same as that of any “normal” American woman.

I wonder if part of what I am feeling is the horror and grief and helplessness experienced by a spouse, a parent, a lover, a child, who weathers the assault of cancer with a loved one. Yes, this triggers my own fears—no escaping that connection. But I grieve as well for a friend and companion on the survivors’ journey, now felled a second time by cancer. I grieve for my own loss of comfort.

How I long to escape this reminder. I want to dwell in the safe bubble of the present—unaware, or willing to suspend awareness, that bubbles burst. Ultimately, I think we must live with that suspended awareness in order to live robustly. But today I am fighting with myself and floundering amid personal insistence that awareness demands attention to shadows as well as to sunlight. It seems risky to say how much this impacts me—as if it might jinx my good fortune these past years. But I hope that by opening the door on these shadows, I’m letting in a little light.

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