Throughout this appendix cancer caper, people keep telling me I’m amazing and I’m strong and I’m doing so well. I’ve never been good at compliments and to be honest, it makes me feel like a fraud. Although I am doing very well in my recovery, overall I just get out of bed each day. Sure I do it with a sense of humour and a smile but it doesn’t mean it’s not hard and doesn’t catch me out. People tell me of others who might let a cancer diagnosis beat them – who would be negative and struggle to face things. It makes me wonder, are there people like that and is that so bad? When you are hit by a truck there’s no shame in going down. There is no shame in staying down for a good long while. Here’s the truth about my perceived strength.
Often, it’s not strength at all. It’s simply my personality. I have always been a talkative, outgoing person. I love spending time with people and on the odd occasion, being the centre of attention. I am good at reading people and I know what to say. Even if I am at my worst, being around others brings out my best. So others usually see chatty, happy-go-lucky Naomi.
But then I’ll go home. Away from all of the things that appeal to what makes me me, without the distraction, I withdraw. I get stuck in my head suffocating under the weight of everything I think is ahead of me. Some days it’s the same stuff as everyone else. Sucking at parenthood on any given day, sucking at being a partner on many, many days. Other days it is the fear of chemo, of what I’ll look like if this chemo concoction makes me lose my hair. Or whether/when I will return to work and will I be a useful contributor to a workplace again. Other days I look at my scarred body in the mirror and hate that I never got into shape before surgery disfigured my already wobbly body. (Yet other days I admire my scar and marvel at what my body has withstood!)
Sometimes I worry about finances and being the primary income earner and what that means. I look at my degree and wonder if it will ever come in handy or just be a memory on a wall.
Other times I feel lonely and like all I have to offer is cancer stories. Long breaks between calls or messages from people I sometimes interpret as people distancing themselves from me, the boring cancer patient, when in reality it’s life. It’s been a busy time of year and it’s no different to how it was pre-cancer. I am (apparently) not the centre of everyone’s the universe! That’s the thing about going through a traumatic experience – often it makes you more sensitive to things. You see meaning where none exists and read too much into things. Thankfully, sometimes when you react big it’s entirely warranted so that evens it out.
I don’t feel like this all the time. In the first few weeks home I was fine. But as 2017 slowly became a reality, it has crept up on my more and more. ‘The future’ seems so uncertain and outside my control. I cry a lot and poor Naomi often has no idea why. Often I have no idea why! (Until I’ve got a handle on it, I’m blaming menopause!) Before my diagnosis I had such a clear idea of what the future held. Now I am lost. Like many I took for granted that I’ll reach old age. I had a note in an old phone that Bryce Courtenay didn’t start writing until he was 50 as a way of reminding myself I had time to get to the things I want to do. I can’t bank on that now and I don’t know how to process that.
It’s never been in my nature to be wildly optimistic so trusting I’ll make 90 isn’t in me. But I’m not so pessimistic that I throw my hands in the air and give up. I’m somewhere in the middle, struggling with making little decisions about what to do with myself and who I am, somewhat envious of those in a similar situation who took life by the horns and marched confidently towards their future however long it may be. That’s why I baulk when people say I’m strong because I feel like such a complicated mess! I blame cancer but when I look at my life, I’ve gone through many, many phases of being a complicated mess. (Those who knew me when I was first coming out can attest to that!)
We’re all strong when we need to be. Often in between bouts of falling apart. I’m lucky to have an amazing partner and hilarious four year old who help me maintain that strength. And when all else fails, Haagen Dazs ice cream never goes astray!