…and who are you supposed to be?

I am on a rocky road right now, and not the good kind with marshmallows and nuts. Yesterday when I retrieved my mail, I discovered an invitation to a research study on fertility in young female cancer survivors. Since my ovaries have been borked (a very technical term) since my radiation treatment, I read on with interest.  The invitation was from the academic medical center where I saw Dr. Second Opinion last year, but the letter says my information was obtained from the California Cancer Registry. I am aware of the registry, but thought it only contained demographic information that was not linked to my name. I was wrong about that. I went on the website and read that when I was diagnosed with cancer, I should have been given information about the registry. I didn’t exactly get a “Welcome New Cancer Patient!” packet from the folks in endocrinology, with all of the downplaying and psychological gamesmanship that occurred.

I sign up for every research study I am eligible for. This was no exception. I just wasn’t prepared to feel so awful after completing the questionnaire. I think I am 15 years older than the women they used for their stock photos; I am invisible to men and haven’t had sex in three years.  I am also OLD to the reproductive world. My favorite part was when it asked for the name of my oncologist. I looked at the people on staff of this study, and again, it was all very young looking people with MPH degrees from one of the universities that rejected me last year. None of them knew that not all cancer patients have oncologists. Yet, because my GRE math score wasn’t a certain number, I wasn’t good enough to have an opportunity to earn this degree.  I have also applied numerous times to work as a patient navigator at this institution and I cannot even get an interview. I thought the letter was a job rejection when I first saw it in my mailbox.

I cried last night, then again this morning, hunched up on the floor sobbing.  I’m old, no one loves me, and I have done nothing of meaning over the last nine years.  I am an intellectual person; information gathering is how I deal with everything. I never met a problem I didn’t think I could read my way out of.  This has been the sole exception.  There’s no book about what happens to a young women in her late 20s who is already undergoing a shift in who she is and who then has this massive chasm rip her life apart. I’ve tried to close it, build a bridge across it, find a way around it and I am still here, looking out over that chasm.  I had no solid footing in the world to return to. I was trying to figure that out and create it when this happened. I kept trying to create it and failed. My career isn’t it, but it was the closest thing I had to that at the time so I have hung on for dear life. It’s the only constant. The man who left me when I moved to LA wasn’t it, though losing him was a huge loss for me. Earning an MSW or an MPH by embracing the chasm wasn’t it.

I have no idea who I am, but I know cancer is not part of it.

Starting today, I am giving up using my cancer experience as a way to find my footing in the world. I am getting rid of all my books. I will finish my current patient navigator course only because I have already paid for it, but I am not taking anymore. There will be no further applications to MSW or MPH programs. I will not apply to anymore navigator positions, or hospital positions in general. I’ve applied for 15 in the last few months and not had one interview. None of this is working and I am not investing any more time in it.

There are some things that I know are central to me: writing, London, seeing more of Europe, reading, hiking, being active, going to concerts (there are so many shows I want to see this summer).  I always wanted to study in Europe and I am interested in history, cultural heritage, museum studies, and public history. If I am to get more education, that’s where it will go.

No more health, cancer or activism. It’s made me miserable, so I am purging as much of it from my life as I realistically can.

 

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Escaping the Pull of the Undertow

Parts of me are shifting again. Last week, I was up for my usual 4:30am gym wake up call and thought about how when I was 13, my goal in life was to go to London. I have gone twice now and it was everything I thought it would be when I was 13. I thought to myself, “that’s one dream you had that you made come true.” For the first time in a recent memory, I felt like I had done something right in my life and I felt relief. I was not a blank slate drifting aimlessly through the years after all.  I had a real, heartfelt, passionate goal and had met it. Goals that were born entirely from me have been in short supply, hence my professional stagnation.

Later that day, I cried. I briefly thought about 28 year old me and how she/I didn’t deserve any of that. It just swelled up out of nowhere and I went along for the ride. I felt relief. As I slept later that night, I had a dream and I remembered having it. Upon waking and recalling this, I came upon the realization that I hadn’t remembered my dreams in years. My recall was fuzzy and not anything revelatory, but it was something important that had gone missing without my knowing it.

Since that morning last week, I have remembered my dreams multiple times now. I also cried again, but for no reason. I find this so encouraging, as if I have scaled a psychological wall and can feel again. I did some reading to find out if this is a PTSD “side effect” and found only anecdotal reports of people who remembered their dreams very well before the trauma and then lost that ability in the wake of their diagnosis. I know this was more a more recent phenomena for me. I had explicit recall of my PTSD nightmares as well as the happier dreams from that time.

Prompted to remember other types of dreams I had for myself, pre-cancer, I looked around at graduate programs in fun topics, like public history and museum studies. One program I was admitted to twice and I didn’t go, which was a blessing because that was when I became ill from Hashimoto’s Disease. This was 12-13 years ago now. I am perpetually disappointed in myself and how my professional life has turned out, but I took two major hits to my health in a short period of time, during the time in a healthy woman’s life cycle when she figures out what she wants, both career and personal life. I was too busy trying to feel and be a healthy person.  I read some old journal entries last night- cancer recorded in real time- and I talked about getting out of my career. Not coincidentally, today was my biopsy, nine years ago. It’s a state holiday, ensuring I will never forget it.

I thought space and time would help me get over this. I traded on the only thing I had- my career- to get away. To run. I don’t regret leaving everyone who didn’t support me, nor do I regret leaving Dr. Overinvolved, though I miss him so, but it truly WAS a self-preservation move. I didn’t trust him to hold the frame anymore even though I really wanted to because I needed him in my corner. In my old journals, the magic of being heard and seen and felt was positively blazing out of my words. I was so high off of the experience. But I didn’t trust the magic, either. It had to be an illusion, a shaky bond built on a rotting foundation. I’m not sure that it was. Perhaps I was wrong to run, simply due to the magic, because there’s been none since. Everyone, especially the train wreck PTSD cancer girl, needs magic in their lives.

My writing was so musical in those old journal entries; I recalled the letter I wrote to him about the trauma situation, a full two pages single spaced. I let myself fly on those pages. It was cathartic and authentically me, all by design. I let him see me, something I rarely do. I have always been someone to keep hidden (because of my fatness, because I was The Other Woman) and I know that there is an extremely short list of people who know me absolutely. He’s one of them. The man I met a year later who was one of the reasons I moved- he knew me. After that, no one knows me anymore.  Not even BFF Melinda. Recently, I’ve made it a point not to be known because being known resulted in my doctor being weird and sent a man who said he adored me running for the hills of Thousand Oaks as soon as it dawned on him I was real.

In my old journals, I saw a me who had no choice but to pick up weapons she scarcely knew how to use and fight.  And fight I did, often with success. Many of the events I wrote about I had simply forgotten. I miss having that kind of fire, and those kinds of battles to engage in. It’s no wonder I am so bored. My world was on fire and it was all up to me to fight it. The fight was not cancer itself, but against an inefficient, unsafe, paternalistic system I knew very little about at that time. Now I know how to shoot that arrow and drive that armored car, skills I would argue I make very little use of these days. Perhaps this is where my future lies.  I want to be in the ring with my gloves on (or off, for you hockey fans out there), not handing out the refreshments.