Monday, 21 March 2016

Shipwrecked.


Most of the time these days I am absolutely fine. I don’t usually sit around moping about cancery stuff. I do, however, live in constant fear of relapse. With every bruise and every back ache my stomach flips as I wonder, could it be back? 

As more time passes, I become less aware of my cancer and other things fill my mind. Wedding planning, getting back to university, plans for the summer, family, training Leo, decorating the house. But every now and then something will happen to uncork a flood of memories and I will be overwhelmed with those same feelings of terror and it’s very difficult to know how to respond to that.

I read something recently on the subject of grief, with the most perfect metaphor in the form of a shipwreck. As I read it I realised it could be applied to traumatic experiences such as a cancer diagnosis.

“ ...you'll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you're drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it's some physical thing. Maybe it's a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it's a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.

In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don't even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you'll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what's going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything...and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.

Somewhere down the line, and it's different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O'Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you'll come out.

Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don't really want them to. But you learn that you'll survive them. And other waves will come. And you'll survive them too.”

I think right now the waves are still 100 feet tall, and I don’t see them coming. It might be someone showing me photographs of their child and I realise I may never have children. Today, it was a phone call. I am learning that I will come out the other side, that everything is going to be okay, that the ship may have been wrecked but that I was lucky enough to survive the storm.

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