When cancer lands in your life, it hits like an nuclear explosion. It incinerates what used to be there. It shatters the atmosphere. It sucks the air to it first, so fast that the trees bend towards the explosion. Then it shatters the world with the force of the shock wave blasting outwards, mowing down everything in its path. It leaves a crater that over time fills up with water, waste, fear, dust, old memories, laughter, dreams, oxygen. The earth that is left behind is cracked. Deep crevices radiate outwards from the site of impact, which gather the dusty remains of your life that skitter through the landscape on the wind.
And the sound… the sound is deafening. The ringing of your own pulse in your ears as the words “cancer” and “histiocytosis” and “chemo” and “liver failure” and “we don’t know if she will survive” seem to fade together into both a male and female voice as they are being spoken by specialists, doctors, scan technicians, nurses, social workers, leaving you asking them to repeat what they are saying. The deafening sound of no answers, even when you ask a question, over and over. “Will she survive?” being met with a round-about-answer and all you want to do is shake the doctor, but instead you ask again, a little slower, “Will…she…survive?” and the doctor looks at you as if your brain is broken because in his little brain that round-about-answer WAS an answer, when in my head I’m thinking “It’s a yes or no question, buddy… Even you can get the answer out…. one syllable, not a dissertation.”
Then the silence that follows. It’s even more deafening than the initial explosion of words. The silence where the only thing you hear is the echo of the diagnosis and the horrible prognosis that seems to bounce around the inside of your skull for a few weeks until you realize that life is moving on around you and the explosion that you thought stopped the world and killed everything around you was just in your baby’s life, and consequently in yours. That crater? That was where your dreams for her future lived. No one else has to navigate through it. No one else is trying to figure out how to scale down the walls to get the little pieces of dust that used to be you and your family before it hit.
I had a bad anxiety day today. It happens when you have PTSD from watching your little girl fight cancer. A simple storm triggered it. Even 7 years out of remission, 4 years past the last emergency, when I feel my feet are on the ground and she’s relatively healthy. I still manage to slip back into that crater and have to claw my way out of it just to look at the broken landscape and shattered skeletons of buildings that housed our lives before cancer.
I try to pretend I’m not distracted, and try to stave off the sound of that stupid *%!&#$*ing echo bouncing around inside my skull again. Repeating the mantra “She’s okay, She’s okay, She’s okay…” Trying to breathe through it. I’m sure I look crazy, talking to myself, crying in the car. I’m sure people think I need to just get over it, that it’s been long enough, that I’m being dramatic. But cancer, like many many other devastating diseases or injuries, IS dramatic. And it leaves behind that horrid echo that I still feel in my bones when I look at my children every day.
I’m not alone. The terror that comes with nearly losing a love one is universal and the lasting impressions on those who fought cannot be overstated.
If you’re like me, you aren’t alone. It’s okay to recognize the event for what it was: the total and complete end of who you were, individually and sometimes as a family. You aren’t being dramatic. You aren’t exaggerating it. And you aren’t crazy for having PTSD, anxiety, or any of a number of issues that haunt you. If you happen to work with or love one of us, please have patience and understand we aren’t trying to be dramatic. What we witnessed and fought through truly was as devastating as a nuclear blast to our lives. Hug us. Tell us it’s okay. Accept us. We can’t change what we’ve been through.
Above all, understand our need for coping mechanisms, whatever they are.
~sigh~ Where are the chocolate and coffee?