It still surprises me each time I hear it. I feel the sharp intake of breath as I steady my reaction. He just wishes things could go back to the way they were. He means before she got cancer. I want to feel like I used to. She means before she got cancer.
Our loved ones wish it for themselves, and for us. We wish for it as well, most days. But we can’t go back. Following any life-altering event, we are irrevocably changed. The altering seeps out into the spaces of our lives, making it’s presence known in both subtle and earth-shattering ways. The place we want to return to no longer exists. The demarcation that identifies life before the crisis and life after, runs deep and wide between both banks of self. This crevasse, or gap, can be the trickiest place to navigate.
Illness has many side-effects, but figuring out who we are afterwards doesn’t appear in any of the brochures. The doctors don’t mention that my sense of self will slowly be extracted with each blood draw. That surgery will amputate my breasts and my confidence. That chemotherapy will truncate my memory and my certainty.
The work of rediscovery often begins following treatment. Until then, we dedicate the remnants of our energy and free time to life outside of our medical care - family, work, dinner, dog walks, sleep. Lots of sleep. We attempt to go about our daily lives with pre-illness routines so we might continue to feel like ourselves. But who are we now?
Finding our way through illness is the primary focus and requires forward motion. We aren’t turning around and walking back into our old lives. As cancer patients, we carry the weight of many losses, including who we used to be. It’s important to find bridges of support for our re-entry, to seek quiet spaces for reflection and internal work, and to have a plan for our self-care. The work of rediscovery takes courage and curiosity, and the tools of an explorer.
Let’s build some bridges.