Yesterday I got an email from the MLIS graduate program I had been attending last fall when I was diagnosed. It's enrollment time again. Which brings up the question that seems to be a theme with cancer survivors - what do I do now?
There's a bit of expectation that surviving cancer will transform you into a little Dalai Lama or Thoreau or Oprah - someone who sees more clearly than ever their "purpose" in life. Someone who has stared the beast down and now has some sort of strength unknown to mere mortals. And while there is a kernel of truth to this - anything that might have seemed daunting before would probably be a cakewalk now - I'm not sure that I have any better sense of purpose than I did before. I feel a bit like when an elementary school teacher says "not working up to her potential." But my potential for what? Do I need to be a phoenix rising triumphantly from the ashes or can I just step out of the ash pile, shake off my tail feathers and mosey on down the road?
I know all of these "expectations" are internal - this is not a new theme for me. I've always had periods of my life where I feel like what I'm doing is not enough. Although not enough of what, I'm never sure. So, when I start to feel like I'm not successful enough, I ask myself, "But, are you happy? " If the answer is yes, then I feel like I must be in a good place. I think the issue right now is that I'm not happy. I'm sure at some point I'll feel happy and grateful that I didn't die of cancer at 35, but right now, in the midst of lingering side effects and uncertainty of reoccurence I mostly feel bitter.
I know that the best thing you can do with any emotion is just let it take it's course. I don't place value judgments on "good" or "bad" emotions - they are all part of all of us. So I'll be bitter for as long as I need to. But you may want to stay a good 2 meters away until further notice. Or maybe dive right in and give me a hug. I dunno.