January 23, 2013
Falling off the edge of a cliff
BY Marcy Kurtz
You know that sensation between when you step off of firm ground that's high up and when you land again? The space in time where you have no footing and you don't know where you'll land or even if you'll land in one piece?
One minute you have the rock-solid, dependable earth beneath you, holding you up, and the next you are just free-falling. I have that feeling.
I'm 20 months out from my last chemotherapy treatment and 15 months from my last medical procedure related to my battle with uterine cancer.
Struggling to call myself a survivor
I'm a cancer survivor.
However, the fact that I still count my survivorship time in months instead of years is a big part of why I feel like I'm falling off a cliff. I'm far enough away from my grueling treatment regimen and side effects that I feel completely healthy and totally healed -- at least physically.
I am, in fact, the picture of health, for which I am grateful.
I joked on Thanksgiving Day that I was most grateful for the things that many people simply take for granted -- that I woke up, had hair on my head, no needles in my arm, and there wasn't a nurse or doctor in sight. It was a good day.
On the other hand, I'm not so far along in my survivorship that I think of my cancer as a thing of the past.
I'm not sure I will ever really think of cancer as something totally and only in my past. I'm still getting tested and scanned quarterly to make sure my cancer is in remission. So, even when I want to move forward like the healthy person I was before my cancer diagnosis, I can't seem to do it.
I may not look different, but I feel different
I find it very hard to explain the feeling I've been living with every day since my cancer diagnosis -- like I've fallen off a cliff.
My life today feels completely different than it did two years ago.
It may not look different, but it feels different. I lost -- either permanently or for some period of time -- everything that was familiar to me.
I lost my otherwise perfect health, my high-powered job (I took partial disability for several months); my independence (I couldn't drive during much of my treatment); my determination as a serious long-distance runner; all of my longer than shoulder-length hair, and my long-time boyfriend, who left when I got sick .
In my own mind, I lost my identity as the strongest person, mentally and physically, that I or my friends and family knew.
My world as I knew it for many decades was gone. I'd stepped off the edge of a cliff.
How cancer has changed me
Today, there is always a me that was "before" and a me that's "after."
I react differently to things today than I did before. I find importance in things I didn't before, and vice versa. I think anyone who has fought cancer will attest that most things in life qualify as "small things" and aren't worth negative energy or time. At least that's my experience.
I keep waiting for this falling feeling to lift.
I recently explained that I feel like someone who, after living her entire life in a beautiful place by the ocean, suddenly wakes up to find herself living in a snow-covered mountain resort. There's nothing wrong with that, of course. It's just trading one great life experience for another, except that it's totally unfamiliar. It's completely and unquestionably different.
Hope, faith and gravity tell me that I will land on firm ground again soon enough. Though the valley below may not look the same as the cliff above, it is still firm ground. I'm counting on that.
Marcy Kurtz is a daughter, sister, aunt and dependable friend to many. She practices law as a vocation and yoga as an avocation. She's deeply committed to helping people, as a lawyer and as a yoga instructor. She's a two-time cancer survivor, beating breast cancer diagnosed in October 2005 and uterine cancer diagnosed in August 2010.
The fact that I still count my survivorship time in months instead of years is a big part of why I feel like I'm falling off a cliff.