The year began and ended with loss. She lost her youthful naïveté. She lost her hopes of a career promotion in the timeline she planned. She lost her blissful ignorance when it came to her own health. She lost her trust in her own body. She lost people she thought were her friends. She lost her partner and her lover. She lost the place she called home. She lost the dream of a future she thought she’d have, a new future she tried to dream of after the illness took the old dream away.
The year began and ended with grief. She mourned her hopes for a “normal” life. She mourned her dream of a carefree future. She mourned the relationships that the disease corrupted. She mourned the person she once was, the person who died with the disease.
The year began and ended with tears. Tears that flowed because of pain. Of suffering. Of exhaustion. Of joy. Of hope. Of dreams.
People like to throw that phrase around when they realize you’ve changed after some type of trauma or loss.
There’s a part of you, or a version of you, that disappears – dies – after a traumatic experience.
When they say the miss the old you, your heart aches a little, because you miss her, too.
They miss the old you. They were hoping – praying – the old you would come back once you got better. That’s what you were expecting. Like when you fight off a flu and you bounce back to your old self. The easy going you. The fun you. The light and bright you. But that’s not the case. Cancer’s not the same as the flu, at least not in the 21st century.
Cancer left you with dark humour, the kind your family doesn’t want to laugh at. It left you with grief no one really knows what to do with because you’re still alive. It left you with the urge to have difficult conversations that make many people uncomfortable.
Back in 2019, I picked up this console for myself as an early present. I got it in the summer, anticipating to mainly use it when the new Pokemon game comes out six months later. I barely used it until December of that year, when I actually got into Breath of the Wild.
When lockdown began three months later, this little thing became my lifeline. Both my sister and my boyfriend convinced me into getting the new Animal Crossing game, since they thought it would be up my alley – low stakes, adorable characters, and a simulation game of sorts. Sure enough, the island life agreed with me. It also allowed me to “hang out” with my sister while we were both locked down in two different cities.
It became my way of staying connected and socializing with others. I’d have some friends visit my island, or I’ll visit theirs. We’d hang out for a bit if someone’s got shooting stars. I’d shop at their tailors’ if they have something cute that day. Even if it’s only for half an hour, it was still something to take me “out” of isolation.
Fast forward to my cancer diagnosis, and my Switch has been my best friend and my lifeline.
When we’re about the reach a milestone, creating a bucket list is a common suggestion. As someone who calms herself through organization, a bucket list is pretty much a to-do list with a different timeline. A to-do list we create so that the event that happens at the deadline is a lot less daunting. It can be longer or shorter, just depends on when you started it and when you need it done.
I was watching Our Friend one night, and there was a part where Dakota Johnson’s character, Nicole, started her bucket list after being told that her cancer’s turned terminal. She managed to check off the items on her list with the help of her family and friends (and a proper use of the cancer card), and it was probably the last happy bit of the movie before everything turned real and dark. Overall, I thought the film was more realistic in its representation of what it’s like, but I could go on about it and maybe I’ll save it for its own post.
But back to bucket lists.
When I turned 25, I made a “before I turn 30” bucket list. I remember feeling an enormous amount of pressure from my own damn self in 2018, because I still haven’t crossed a thing off. The list was the embodiment of my anxiety towards aging, and completing items off the list was my way of conquering that dread. On the other end of it, the pressure was because I didn’t want to “fail” and be a thirty-year-old with an incomplete bucket list. I’ve lost that list since I was 28, but in the end I think I got two or three of the five or six things. There were also other significant goals that were achieved, although I didn’t think of writing them down at the time. Perhaps they weren’t “proper” goals to my 25-year-old self. Not proper enough to ease my worries about turning thirty at least.
I have a love-hate relationship with Inspirational Cancer Stories. They’re great for giving hope for someone who’s gone down a Google rabbit-hole of looking up a bad prognosis. I have personally looked for stories of people with a similar diagnosis in the Profiles sections of the LLS site while I was sitting in the chemo recliner, waiting for my three-hour infusion to finish. It’s good to know that someone else has made it too, especially if the the odds are grim.
But just like influencers on social media, cancer “influencers” tend to be all perfect and happy and their lives are roses. A lot like how cancer is portrayed in larger media. It’s usually a feel-good, inspirational story of “overcoming”.
When in reality, it’s a period of survival and facing your own mortality.
I think many of us, if not all, wanted to grow up and be adults as fast as we can. We wanted that fast-track to freedom. Being told “you’re so mature” was a huge compliment from people we considered adults.
For me, the moment my parents responded with “you can buy it with your own money” when I asked for a little treat on a random day, I realized the freedom that adults have. You mean I don’t have to ask permission to buy ice cream? I just… buy it?
But of course, being an adult is so much more than that.
I’ve gone to mention this a few times since I turned 25-ish… adulthood is a scam! The bills, the rent, the prices of kitchenware and spices and household furnishings… the price of owning a home! We can’t afford shit.
But there’s one other thing no one ever warned us about when we reach “adulthood”: our parents (and other parent-figures in our lives) get older.
It starts with you slowly realizing in your 20’s that, hey, mom and dad are just figuring life out too. There’s no guidebook or instruction manual to living life. They’ve made mistakes, and worked with what they’ve got, and that’s what you’re doing too. Wild!
I was raised Catholic, so it should be obvious that I don’t really believe in religion anymore, right? Ah, but don’t tell my grandparents!
I started questioning the religious practices we had to follow when I was a teenager. Why do I have to go to confession when God sees everything anyway? Why do I have to give something up for Lent when my non-Catholic friends didn’t have to? Why do I have to sit in church on Sundays and listen to some man’s lecture? Why can’t I point out loopholes in the Bible or in the “teachings” of church? I slowly became uncomfortable with the indoctrination.
Life and death is out of our control and understanding. That’s why many of us turn to a belief system to cope with this reality. We tell ourselves that the stars have decided our future before we were born. Whether it’s Astrology or Christianity, crystals or crosses… these are some of the ways we deal with our anxiety of the unknown.