On my way home from work tonight, at various times, I let 3 people into traffic ahead of me. “Gosh I’m a nice person!” I thought to myself. But really, what I wanted to say to these people driving on the road with me was, “&%$* you! I have cancer!” Not so “Hay House” of me, I know. But quite honestly, there are times when I just want to scream from the top of a mountain (or while I’m fantasizing, perhaps a cliff in Hawaii) that I have cancer, that the world sucks, that it’s not fair, that all I want is to go back to that moment right before I knew that there were 2 lesions in my liver. To live in that very second of not-a-care-in-the-world (even though I can tell you right now, I thought that I had plenty of cares at the time)– wow! Would that be amazing. Completely unrealistic, but amazing.
And perhaps it is the stress of my job that made me want to yell at complete strangers (or perhaps even if I got to watch TV as my job, I would still feel the need to yell at the top of my lungs). You can imagine, I hope, how difficult it is at this point in my life to be a social worker. To listen to other people’s problems. It goes against the very grain of who I am to not feel compassion, and yet sometimes, when people are complaining about their jobs (or their bunion surgeries, true story), relationships, or financial woes, I just want to tell them to suck it up. I know that everybody has real problems, and that everybody is entitled to their problems (I sure wanted to be before cancer). And yet, I wonder if/how I could change a life if I told somebody who was concerned about the fact that they weren’t totally sure that they liked their daughter-in-law-to-be that I have stage IV cancer, and would literally take a crappy daughter-in-law in lieu of this cancer, because that would mean that I had a child who was getting married.
Of course, lots of the problems that I hear about are definitely really serious– suicidal thoughts, severe alcohol/drug abuse, homelessness, domestic violence, etc. But there is no way for me to distinguish what’s going to be on the other end of the phone when I pick it up. Will I get somebody threatening to jump off of a parking garage roof, or will I get somebody upset about not liking the smell of snow? (I couldn’t make this s*** up if I tried). But I still get out of bed and go to work on most days, because I long for that sense of “normalcy,” even if it means tolerating some ingrown toenail stories or some other (what feels like right now) nonsense.
After work this evening, I took a walk through my new neighborhood. I’m working on self-care, including taking time to be alone with my thoughts (as scary as that is), and getting some fresh air and exercise, despite still feeling icky from the side effects to my treatment. I forgot how early the sun sets these days, and how cool it gets at night. But right before it became dark I saw the first red leaves sleeping on a tree and thought, “When did it become fall?” Summer flew by with not much of what I had hoped for, too busy navigating the medical system and wondering, “What if?” I thought about that during my walk; about the precious nature of time, about feeling like months have passed without knowing exactly where they have gone. All that cancer patients want is the luxury of time. I listened to my tunes and gazed at the houses on my new street, thinking about how sweet it was of our next door neighbor to ring the bell today and hand me not only a plate of brownies that she had made, but also an index card attached with their phone number. “We have an open door policy,” she told me– she and her other neighbor friends can walk into each other’s houses and grab a cup of sugar or a beer if they so desire. I’m not sure how I’d feel about walking into the kitchen to see my neighbor rummaging through my fridge, but then again, I’ve never known my neighbors as an adult, so perhaps I would find it endearing! I certainly found her endearing. Perhaps it was because, aside from the brownies and the hug with a “Welcome to the neighborhood!” she was the first person that we’ve met in our new hood so far not to ask me if we had kids. I felt as though I was holding my breath throughout our conversation on my front porch, and when she finally walked back towards her house, I exhaled, feeling relief at not having to give an answer to a question that I absolutely dread. And for the first time today, as I watched her shadow disappear behind a line of trees that we share as neighbors, I didn’t feel like screaming from the top of a mountain or from the safety of my car. But I can’t promise how I’m going to feel tomorrow.