I filed away the last of the blood count reports floating around our office.
I threw out the leftover steroids.
I took down the calendar which held the lists of doctor appointments and documented how I felt each day.
I twisted my hair around my finger. Well, half-way around.
I crumpled up the hand-written notes from my mom with directions of when and how much of which medicines to take each day.
I'm transitioning from cancer patient to cancer survivor. In fact, this past couple of weeks, I've really forced myself to forget about the "C" word altogether. I think I've really been squelching it all, excited to be feeling better and getting back into my old routines. However, no matter what, I know that this experience will forever be a part of me and I don't want to forget it. I think I just wanted to tuck it away in my back pocket for a little while. Now, I'm ready to reexamine it all and see how I can use it to better my life and the lives of others. I'm going back to figuring out that still unanswered question of why the hell this happened to me ... .
I'm waiting for the big flood of emotions or whatever is supposed to happen when I actually realize everything that I, and those around me, went through. Right now it just seems like it was a little bump in the road, a chapter that is now closed. It's hard to even recreate what my mind and body felt like. I remember people telling me that would happen back when I was first diagnosed. Telling me that one day this cancer experience will be just a little blip in my life and that I'll have so many bigger and better adventures that will overshadow it. I found that hard to believe at the time, just as it was hard to believe that I'd ever reach the 12th treatment. But now that I'm here, I realize that the world keeps moving and that there's a whole lot of life still ahead of me.
Even though I don't think about it constantly as I used to, I am still frequently reminded. Of course, there's the givens. The lady lump is still in my chest. It seems that the skin discolorations on my body are permanent, and oh ya, I still don't have enough hair to cover my head. But there's also the unexpected reminders.
Last night we were out at a tavern enjoying some beers and a live band with friends. I go to the bathroom and this 60ish-year-old woman with long, peroxide bleached blond hair, teased bangs and L.E.I bellbottom jeans starts to explain to me why she has a heart painted on her face (her grandson), keeps talking to me while I'm in the stall, and after I'm done washing my hands and she's done drawing on her Barbie pink lip liner, reaches her hand out to shake mine and introduces herself.
"I'm Karin," I replied, wiping my hands on my jeans and shaking her hand.
Her eyes widened.
"That's my sister's name ... ," she said.
I nod and mumble back something about 'what a coincidence' and make my way to the bathroom door.
"She just died of cancer," she said and I spun back around.
I hesitated at first, not knowing what to say, then blurted out: "I just beat cancer. I just finished six months of chemotherapy." As soon as the words came out of my mouth I wanted to take them back. I couldn't believe how mortifyingly insensitive I was, but her reaction completely surprised me.
She grabbed me in her arms and pulled me in for a tight hug. I was immediately engulfed in the scents of Aquanet hairspray and gag inducing flowery perfume.
"What? Oh my God. God bless you, child," she choked, going on and on and on. "That's amazing! Oh, that's amazing!" She kept kissing me on the cheek - several times. I'm just awkwardly smiling back thinking, I am in a bathroom, with other people doing their business in the stalls listening to this. I thought I was just going to take a leak and I end up sending this woman over the emotional edge.
"I'm sorry about your sister," I said back.
She just replied with more sighs of happiness and more awkward touching. She squeezed my hand and we reentered the bar. I plopped back down at our table and immediately recounted my bathroom experience. Then I watched as this dolled-up Grandma headed to the dance floor to slink around to the beat and rub up against her much younger looking boy toy and I smiled.
It's like I'm now forever part of this secret society. For those who have been through it or watched someone very close to them go through it, you have this instant rapport and understanding. That's something that I feel very lucky for - to have the capacity to form these instant human connections. So quickly comfortable that several smooches in the ladies room at a divey bar are perfectly appropriate.