I wrote this blog for Young Adult Cancer Canada. One of the side effects of all the steroids I’m on, to keep my brain from swelling, is insomnia. I find that in the middle of the night, I have trouble dealing with anxiety and my fears. I think this is because at night alone and without distractions.
I’m lying in bed looking up at the shadows on the ceiling and feeling a strange combination of contentment, vulnerability, and fear. Feelings that exist amongst a floating unease that seems to penetrate deep into the marrow of my bones. My body is ornamented with traces of medical tape, bruising from lines, tubes, vices and the single elegant curve of staples that arch over my left ear. Cancer’s gemstones now a visual discourse of last weeks traumatic events. My hyper awareness of every tiny ache and pain makes it hard to be rational as I stare into the darkness.
Feelings of unease consume me. I’m acutely aware that this recent setback has transported me through an invisible threshold, dumping me in a place I struggle to comprehended. My self awareness is wrapped in fear and anxiety. I am afraid of the unknown. Afraid that I will not find myself and my passion again. Afraid that I will not come back from this setback. I do not have time to constantly rebuild and rediscover myself. Two and a half years ago cancer rendered my life condensed.
I try to focus on the shadows. I centre myself on the individual seconds displayed on my wrist watch, the warmth of my pillow, the sound of the house adjusting to the furnace turning on and off. My mind settles on my family sleeping. My son and husband’s rhythmic breathing, the dog snoring and the quiet chatter of my daughter dreaming. I remind myself that it is dark, 4:00 am and it will take time to work through all the complicated feelings that consume me. I try to relax into a thin vail of acceptance, hoping to contain my dichotomy of feelings.
I close my eyes and try to shift my awareness to my son who is tightly nestled against my back. He has taken great effort to wrap his little legs around my body. This last week has been hard on everyone. The change was sudden and my little family had to adapt quickly. My son, who is now five, has just started to put things together. My daughter, who is three, is fascinated with discussing my scars. Her little voice curious and questioning. “Whats you aowie doing?”
Last week’s crisis was cushioned by friends and family who rallied together and cared for our children. While my husband and I waited anxiously for a treatment plan in the emergency department, my son’s teacher spoke to him via video from her home where she had been stranded by a snow storm. Later that day one of my dearest friends, made visiting me in the hospital an adventure by sticking furry black moustaches on my children to soften the impact of seeing me on an emergency room stretcher. Cancer has allowed my children the rare privilege of being raised and loved by a community.
I open my eyes and focus on the darkness. Streams of tears run down my face. Again I try to settle my mind on the second, the minute, the now. I fight to be present and exist without time and space. I try to absorb the comfort of those around me. My son with his legs intertwined in mine. My husband, who through sleep, has found reprieve from the stresses and responsibility of a supporter. I take in a deep breath and focus on the wholeness of here and now. These moments I live for, to indulge in normalcy. I craved this with tenacious intensity as I laid awake alone in an ICU bed. Nevertheless, I am unable to quiet my mind and slow my tears.
I have metastatic breast cancer and my life is busy with two small children. I live with the constant ebb and flow of fatigue, stress and anxiety, mixed with determination, happiness and bliss. My feelings often contradict one other and exist in ways that are incomprehensible. Life is complicated.
Lying awake in the middle of the night, facing myself and my illness is part of who I am now. It is integral to my journey. I can not hide from the web of vulnerable hairline cracks my cancer has drawn across my body and deep into my soul. The cracks are intricate and illusive. As I face cancer and the trauma it creates, I trust that the twisted bands of anxiety and fear will combine with threads of happiness and contentment.
It is hard work. It is exhausting work. At times it seems insurmountable and I am scared. But when I peel back all the layers and complicated feelings, there is nothing wrong with how I feel. After all I have been through, this is how it should be. Life is complex and I believe beauty can be found in the cracks of darkness.