You have people who love you. Your mother who put everything on hold to spend three months going with you to every doctor visit, bathe you when you could barely stand, hold basins, plastic garbage bags, and once, a cardboard box to catch your vomit. Your boyfriend with the long-time fear of hospitals and death shrinking into despair when you were crying out in the bathroom in the middle of the night, every night, for the last weeks of radiation. Your daughter away from home embarking on her junior year in college when the news of cancer came.
Friends and strangers who made and/or sent gifts of encouragement, implored you to stay strong. You promised to believe in positive thoughts and miracles. You did. You still do.
You owe them unwavering hopefulness. To remain steadfast as they have for you. But this cancer that came stealing, an enemy at the gate on a moonless night, has left you disoriented.
Four months ago you were healthy until you weren’t. And then you were upside down in a body flooded with toxins. And now you are told your tumor is undetectable and in a few months you’ll be declared cancer free.
But you just got used to being sick. You tried on the skirt of an ill woman and finally it fits. It can’t all be over because you are still back in September in the surgeon’s office hearing the word cancer for the first time.
You’re an imposter. A big faker. You and your “think of it as a sprint, not a marathon” 6-week chemotherapy and radiation treatment that has left you unmotivated, slow, and questioning.
When the doctors no longer detect the tumor and everyone who has loved and nurtured you these months sings with joy, you instead lose your footing. There are more tests to be performed. It isn’t over. You don’t feel cancer free. Your fingernails are still half black and brittle. You still can’t walk around the market without assistance or motivate yourself to fully shower everyday. Your hair is a quarter inch long. You no longer have a menstrual cycle; radiation has forced you into early menopause. You can’t remember what cancer-free feels like. You can’t, upon returning to work after an 8-week absence, remember the names of coworkers with whom you’ve worked more than four years.
But the people who love you are unchanged. You want to be healthy for them, want to pull them close to your cancer-free body in embrace, shine with a newfound wisdom gleaned from enduring strife. You cannot say you are fear and scare. You cannot say to the people who love you that you lie in bed thinking of all the tiny spaces bad cells can hide. You owe, having collected their hope and goodwill like coins on the floor of a wishing well. You owe. You love. But you are filled with doubt.