You know, after living through a global pandemic—something I could have never imagined I'd write in my lifetime—I've got a lot of things on my mind.
I've been reminded over the past few days that to process the tough stuff of life, I've often turned to blogging. I've not usually been one who can blog her way through painful and challenging events of life. The words won't come, my anxiety gets too big.
Some can put the most eloquent words together as they sit at the bottom of their pit and face razor-blade emotional pain. Not me. You'll usually hear from me as the weight gets lifted. Or to pull some Christianize on you—once that stone rolls away.
I wouldn't say my current stone is fully gone, but there is light at the end of this tunnel. Lately, I've also come to realize that showing you my process of coping may be my way of helping our world heal.
Facing the Loss
I'm fighting a temptation to bullet point a laundry list of what I've survived this year. I'm sure a lot of what's on my list is on yours too.
One thing I can say—we've all faced a lot of loss. Like A LOT. The human race, in general, has missed so many milestones: Graduations. Weddings. Proms. Family Reunions. First breaths. Last breaths. Ahem... in-person book launches and tours. And it's not just milestones, but it's moments too—the hugs and kisses and family dinners, the touches that give our lives meaning.
I can't help but wonder... if truth be told... how many of us are still in denial that it hurts?
Are we brushing off the pain because we don't think it's a big deal? Or, since there's collective loss, we are trying to gloss over it too quickly? Maybe we're bargaining—since the mask mandates are expiring and parts of life are resembling what they used to, we feel the angst of the past year should also melt away.
I'm doing this a lot right now—wanting to skip over the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings that come up when I stop and ask myself, "What did I just live through?" and "Am I OK?"
The truth is hard to face: I just lived through one of the biggest challenges the human race has experienced in many, many years. I wasn't immune to it. It's been really, really hard.
The New Normal
When the pandemic first kicked off, I, as well as a lot of other cancer patients, felt a sense of deja vu. Hand washing, compromised immunity and staying at home due to canceled plans were not new concepts. This is the life of a sick person.
What I wasn't used to was having everyone around me act ill. That's been weird.
Yet as COVID-19 hit, I found a hidden blessing from having had colon cancer—I was ready to navigate the global health crisis. Because I've been a patient for 20 years, I knew what to look for and what was to come: medicines and vaccines, complex emotional journies, differing opinions, new ways of life, and discussions on preventing a recurrence.
As our country transitions into a new phase of COVID-19 where we're easing up on restrictions because our threat is waning, we're all now headed into what cancer survivors know as the survivorship phase.
I'm going to be honest. Cancer survivorship works a bit like the Emerald City in Wizard of Oz. It's the goal, but once you get there, it's not quite what you expected.
In my experience, once I reached survivorship, complex and confusing emotions came. I didn't find constant joy and relief. Although I was elated to leave oncology as the physical fight eased up, the emotional battle quickly kicked in. Survivorship brought the space to process what I'd lived through. It wasn't always pretty and it was hard.
The journey stirred up a grief cycle that was full of many emotions. I did eventually dip my toes into what I'll call acceptance, but the cycle soon started over. As a 20-year cancer survivor, it continues to this day.
When I reached survivorship, aspects of my life pre-cancer returned, but some were never the same. My friends changed, my body did too, as well as my future dreams and goals.
In a similar way, many of our lives have fundamentally changed because of the pandemic. Our families may engage differently now, especially if there are differing opinions about vaccines and masks. Our workplaces, schools and restaurants are certainly not the same. We don't fully know yet what we will keep from the COVID-19 era and what will phase out. I do plan to continue using grocery apps and having DoorDash on my phone's home screen.
I don't know what the next phase of our world will look like, but I do know this based on my experience with cancer: It's likely going to be confusing, maybe a bit messy, and it could take some time to work through. With COVID-19 cases declining, get ready for the mental health monsoon. Don't forget: help is always available and it's critical you find healthy ways to cope.
It can look like counselors, pastors, and good friends with a box of wine. Or, it may even look like logging in and posting a blog—something you used to do from time to time.