It’s been two weeks since I got my 5-year all-clear from my Neurosurgeon. I surprised myself by not making more of a big deal out of the occasion – in years past after my annual MRI’s have come back clean, I’ve bought myself ridiculous shoes, a bottle of champange, or something out of the ordinary to celebrate the good news. In the back of my mind I had thought about having some sort of big blow out if I got good news – but when that moment actually came, I was content to just go on with my daily life.
Now that some time has passed and I’ve had some time to think about things some more, I’m starting to understand why getting past this 5-year mark has been far harder than I ever thought it would be.
Here’s the thing . . . surviving a tumour means you know exactly how hard the process is. I now know first hand what it’s like when a doctor tell you “We found something, it’s a tumour”. I know first hand how in that instant, you will do whatever it takes to make sure you are alive for just one more day. And I know what it’s like to regret whatever it is you did in life that contributed to the growth of that tumour.
I know what it’s like to say good bye to your kids not knowing what state you’re going to come back to them in. I know what it’s like to have to think about what you want most for you kids when you don’t even know what kind of people they’re going to grow up to be. And I know what it’s like to plan not to be fully present as a wife and a mother for an undefined period of time.
I know what it’s like to wait for biopsy results. I know what it’s like to wait for blood test results. And I know what it’s like to spend hours at the hospital waiting for doctors appointments to get the results.
Let me be unequivocally clear here . . .NONE of this process is remotely enjoyable. None of it. In fact, it is, I think the hardest thing anyone can endure.
And then you find out . . . you survived. You’ve managed through excellent medical care, amazing surgeons, doctors, and health care professionals, through diet, nutrition, exercise, rest, to take care of yourself, and allow yourself to heal. You’ve been given the gift of life.
You see, once you’ve come face to face with just how short life can be, how your life can be turned upside down with a single sentence “We found something . . . .”, when you know first hand how hard it all is, trust me when I say, you NEVER want to go through that again.
For me, that has meant turning my attention to my nutrition and exercise. I focus on getting the right nutrients into my body to prevent inflammation, to give my cells what they need to thrive, to prevent damage. I focus on working out, and getting strong so that if I ever do get sick again, I know I have the strength to fight it, but also to help ward off illness. Nope, I don’t drink as much as I used to, nor do I eat out, or eat treats like I used to . . . but how can I when I know that a diet rich in alcohol and sugar is going to, more likely than not, end in disease? Allowing myself to slide into old nutritional habits (or lack there of), more drinking, and less exercise means putting myself at risk for going through all of this again . . .and that’s pretty much the LAST thing I want to do.
When the future was uncertain, I found a need to cram as much fun as I could into every day. I’ve talked about wanting every day with my kids to have some sort of “magic” in it. Well, the sad truth is, this need doesn’t disappear once you’ve been declared cured. Possibly, this way of life has just become habit. But it’s also equal possible that I know each moment is precious and I hate to waste a single one – you never know what changes life might throw at you next.
When the future was uncertain, it was easy to let things slide – a tidy house wasn’t all that important – a certain amount of mess meant we were having fun and not wasting any time. Expenditures on frivolous things were excusable because they were meant to bring added joy to our lives. And living day to day without too much planning (or dreaming) about the future was simply the practical thing to do.
Surviving means turning your attention to yourself and to the future. Surviving means figuring out who you are after you’ve been to hell and back. Surviving means finding dreams other than having a clean bill of health. Surviving means figuring out how to make those dreams come true. Surviving means not letting the gift of life weigh so heavily on you that you don’t allow yourself to find the courage to discover who you are now, and what else you are capable of beyond survival.
All of this to say . . .when you hit that 5-year mark, the doctors and those around you may be full of joy for you and the state of your health. They won’t tell you that the new road you’re on may be a rocky one with lots of ups and downs as you discover the “new, cured” you. And so I will tell you, as I am trying to tell myself . . . be patient with yourself. Allow yourself to experience joy and happiness and love without worrying about the future. Allow yourself to try new things, to take chances, and to make bold choices without the fear of “wasting” time, making a bad choice, or squandering the precious “gift of life” you’ve been given. And most of all, allow yourself time to breathe and just be you – beautiful healthy you – without the fear of the future being taken from you again.