Another Year: Reflecting on 2013 and moving forward to 2014

Just like that another year has passed. My cancer experience was confined to 2011, and since then I kind of defined my time based on that – 2013 was 2 AC (after cancer). 2012 was a rebuilding year; I literally rebuilt my body and figuratively rebuilt a “normal” life after cancer. When 2013 started, I saw it as a year of bursting forward in spectacular new ways. I quit a job that I was starting to resent, I traveled on my own to a foreign country for a month, I applied and got into graduate school and I moved from DC back to Philadelphia, where I grew up, to attend said grad school. This past year, in a lot of ways, brought me closer to the path to happiness and fulfillment that I so desperately seek and that feels so much more urgent now that I’ve had cancer. 

Sometime in 2013 however, probably in the summer, I stopped thinking of time in terms of cancer. My hair was long enough to put into a ponytail, and I was making new friends who, absent of any context clues, had no idea that just a year and a half ago I sat in a cushy chair while adriamycin and other such pernicious drugs coursed through my veins. Now I struggle with whether or not to tell my grad school friends, and my bf and I say things to each other like, “Hey, remember when I had cancer? That was crazy.” 

In 2013 I was easily moved to tears many times. Fortunately, I think it is not because I watched many romantic comedies but instead because I let beautiful moments into myself so deeply. I was moved to tears by great pieces of music, well-written books, and natural wonders like a night sky full of stars or sunset over the Teton mountains. Considering I made a resolution in 2012 to stop and fully experience small moments, 2013 was a smashing success. 

But there is still a lot that I have to work on, so here are my “resolutions”, of sorts: 

  • One: I have to settle on a whether or not and how to tell new friends that I had cancer. It was a whole year of my life and left me with stories to tell, but it is often strange to start a sentence with “I had cancer and…” while at a bar surrounded by beer bottles or at a friend’s house enjoying a home-cooked meal. 
  • Two: I have to continue learning not to beat myself up over feelings like jealousy. As was written in the book I just read, A Map of the World, “…feelings are never wrong. Emotions in varying degrees exist, of course, and have to be acknowledged, but they in and of themselves… do not have moral weight and should never be judged.”
  • Three: I have to stop being timid when it comes to going for the things I want in life. I always seem to apply to jobs that are below my skill level because they are easier targets. I take unpaid internships because it’s easier than trying to find paying part-time work. For many years, I’ve said that I can’t make a living from singing because auditions are too hard. All of that needs to stop. I know it can’t all happen at once, but I want to acknowledge that I have this problem and work on it.

And that’s about it. Not sure how any of this relates to cancer, except that cancer lit a fire under my ass to get my life in order and realize what’s really important. 

Anyone else have resolutions they want to share? 

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The Emperor

I’ll admit I don’t understand this article. Also, I didn’t read all of it. Coincidentally, I also stopped in the middle of reading the author’s (Siddhartha Mukherjee) book, The Emperor of all Maladies

I stopped for two reasons: 1) I was bored and 2) it scared the crap out of me, because most of the examples in his story were people who were treated and then had recurrences that killed them. Originally, I thought it would be interesting to read a history of cancer. The first couple chapters were really interesting (did you know that one of the first recorded cases of breast cancer came from an ancient Egyptian papyrus, or that mustard gas played a large role in the development of chemotherapy as we know it?), but then it got really scientific and I was less able to follow. It also really brought me down to read story after story of failed courses of treatment. Not what I needed after finishing my own, seemingly “successful” treatment.

Needless to say, I am now reading mindless fiction (Neil Gaiman’s American Gods). I just thought it was important to mention Mukherjee’s article and book, because for doctors, scientists, or others who really want to read about why cancer treatment is where it is today, it’s probably a worthwhile read.

Hoda Kotb on her Breast Cancer

This weekend, the boy and I went to the National Book Festival, a delightful celebration of literature that brings authors of all genres to the National Mall to talk about their work. The biggest draw for me was Toni Morrison, but I stuck around to listen to Hoda Kotb after seeing that she recently wrote a book about her career and her battle with breast cancer.

Many celebrities have had breast cancer: Melissa Etheredge, Edie Falco, Christina Applegate, etc. Not many talk freely about the experience, which I guess I understand because they’re in the public eye and not everyone wants to hear all the gory details about surgery and chemo and that good stuff. But still, I wish a celebrity would take us through the details, to prove that person is real and has a real breast cancer experience. Hoda didn’t do that – her story was very much about “fighting” and making it through and being a survivor – you know, the sugar-coated version of breast cancer. Still, I think it’s important that she shared the story at all, so here’s what I videotaped on my iPhone for you all. (Hopefully, this isn’t illegal, but I guess if I post a mug shot in a couple of weeks, we’ll know!)

I want to add two things that Hoda said that I found very profound. For one, she shared a story about a man on a plane who, after she was reluctant to tell him she had breast cancer, told her, “Don’t hog your journey. It’s not just for you.” That’s why I keep this blog!

She also said that, though after surviving breast cancer many women feel they need to do something huge with their lives, it’s important to realize that making small changes every day also makes a big difference. I liked that. Maybe I don’t have to run a marathon or start a non-profit or change someone’s life, but I can make small changes every day that will make my life better after breast cancer.

Thanks for the words of wisdom, Hoda.