Recently, I was making a poor attempt to explain to my Book Group of 3 other women that I do not feel fully present in social gatherings. During active treatment, I would feel about 10% present. Now that I am getting better, I feel about 50% present. At first, I felt this way even in one-on-one conversations. Now, it is mostly in larger group settings. It feels like part of me is there and part of me is somewhere else observing myself, like an out-of-body experience. The “somewhere else” is still processing what I have been through: who I was before cancer, who I am now, and where I am going. The “somewhere else” is figuring out what I believed before and what I believe now about various issues that tend to get discussed in social arenas.
Since we are a Book Group, we tend to discuss deeper topics. We were talking about Christianity and martyrdom came up. My observations of myself during this discussion were: “Hmm, pre-cancer I would have thought ‘What a horrible death’, but now I think: ‘That would be a fast way to go.’ ” My observations of myself are not just about death. They are about any topic. I have to decipher how I feel through this new lense of “Cancer Survivor”.
Throughout my morning with these accomplished women who had supported me in wonderful and thoughtful ways during my phase as “cancer patient”, I felt out of sorts. It was certainly nothing they had done. They are all spiritual women who have all been through adversity and trials in their own lives. These women are understanding and giving and continue to be role models for me.
Thinking I was the only one on the planet with these feelings, I came home and immediately posed that question to my Internet Breast Cancer Support Group of 20 women, who reside in different parts of the world. We all began Chemo during the same month and walked our journeys together. Immediately, I started getting responses that mirrored my feelings.
Dorrie, one of my support group members, has gone through cancer treatment TWO TIMES. Dorrie also writes a blog filled with her wisdom. http://adancerlivingwithcancer.blogspot.com/ This is her meaningful statement.
“…this is my second time as a cancer survivor. When I finished treatment the first time, I was 40 years old and had three young children. I felt like I was “different” from most of the people I dealt with daily. It did make me feel so isolated. The only place I felt completely myself was in my dance studio teaching my students and dancing. THAT is what helped me find “normal” again, Mind you, it was a different normal than I had before diagnosis. It took a long time, however, and, being a cancer survivor has always made me feel slightly separated from the pack.
Twelve years later, here I am again, even more distanced in a way. But, now I realize that the people who are like me, like all of you ladies, are some of the most insightful people I know. We see things differently now. We have faced death square…Cancer equals Death in our society. We walked away from death, but now, we know death a little better. Death is not something we humans want to think about. We had no choice. Even if we knew that our chances of surviving were good, we still understood that Cancer can be a formidable opponent. And we now have to live with that fact…”
Dorrie’s statements helped me understand that I am different from myself, and I must realize it will take time. It is not possible for me to tell others who I am now, because I do not know myself. If you are a cancer survivor, Dorrie’s message to us is that our “new normal” takes time to develop. It is a process. We cannot stay away from every social event because we feel uncomfortable. In fact, when we feel most uncomfortable, it helps refine the process of who we are becoming.