Tuesday, November 30, 2010

#282: Cancer as a Reset Button

I have a Facebook friend who has just started a new blog. It's called ... and she's off! and it's about her journey as a woman and mother who is surviving divorce. She's a good honest writer, and has been a faithful online friend to me through my recent struggles, so I look forward to sharing her travels through her words.

She got me thinking about how rarely we have an opportunity to hit the reset button in our lives. There are certain moments that change everything. We lose a spouse to death or divorce. A parent is gone. A career is taken away. A house is destroyed. The judge declares us to be bankrupt.

Cancer is one of those moments. There were two points in time when everything that used to be true about me changed. First was the moment when the Surgeon confirmed that I had cancer. Then there was the one when the Oncologist burst into the exam room and said, "It's great news!" I was pretty numb both times. I was in the recovery room when they told me I had cancer and slipping into a deep depression when the told me I didn't have it anymore, but somewhere in my mind I knew that things had changed. First I was alive, then I was dying, then I was a "survivor." But that's not a big enough word for what I am. I'm not just surviving. I have a chance to start again.

Team Pennsy, irradiated and radiant.
I made the decision to beat cancer based on two things. I wanted to be an actor and I wanted to be Mrs P's husband. My therapist asked how things were going. I told him I was doing well. Writing. Working out. Rehearsing and auditioning. Getting things done. He asked how things were going with Mrs P. That was harder to answer. I'm not sure we've figured out just who we are now that we've both fought cancer and won. She fought as hard as I did and something big has changed for her too. Having your widowhood snatched away can do that to a person. The truth is, I don't think we're sure where we go from here. But cancer has given us a great opportunity.

So many marriages are about The Rut. Staying on the tracks. Staying together. We get up, go to work, vacations and holidays come and go. Gifts are exchanged. Bills get paid. Chores get done. We become one another's habit, our marriages become routine.

But cancer blows up The Rut. Suddenly the tracks are gone. There is no "normal" left. That's scary as hell, but it's also exciting. Catastrophe is one of the few opportunities we get in our lives to really start again. Everything changes, but that means you have a chance to make choices about what a lot of those changes will be. I can't will myself to be stronger, but I can change the way I exercise to accommodate my weaker muscles and diminished stamina. I can't choose not to be tired from singing, but I can choose to find new ways to sing so my voice will last till the end of a rehearsal or a performance. I can't undo the damage that years of auto-pilot have done to my relationships and my marriage, but I can change the flight plan. Thanks to cancer, there is no more auto-pilot. All routes have been re-scheduled. Now that my arrival times been cancelled, I have a chance to choose new destinations. I may even get off the plane.

Cancer did not kill our marriage. Nothing ever will. But thanks to our victory over a handful of cells that tried to give us the old "death do us part," we have a chance to start being married on purpose again. The way we did when we were courting, only with 21 years of experience behind us. Things don't have to be the way they were before I got sick. We can make them better.

My friend's blog is called ... and she's off! because it reminds her that the gavel at the end of her divorce proceeding  She was afraid it would sound like a shot that would kill her. But it turned out it was actually more like a starter's pistol. Not the death of her marriage, but the beginning of her new race, her new life. Living through cancer is like that. It's a new race. And we're off...

For weeks after they declared me to be in remission, I was haunted by the question, "So now what?" I felt lost in the limbo land between dying of cancer and the rest of my life. Like Scarlett, I didn't know what to do or where to go. How strange and wonderful to realize how much the answers to those questions were up to me. Up to us. Cancer has given me the chance to reorgainize my life around the two things I value the most, the things that kept me wanting to live: my bride and my art.

Plus, I got to lose all that weight.

Almost makes it seem worth the trouble...


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