I have a complicated relationship with hope, and it all started with my cancer diagnosis. Now, when I say “hope” I don’t mean it in the positive-thinking-cliché type of way, but in the sense of having a purpose or having the will that I need to take the leaps in life that I still want to take.
I like to believe that I learn quickly. When I get hurt, I am super cautious the next time I am faced with a similar situation, even if I have no control over my outcome. I am so cautious that I prevent myself from fully investing myself emotionally so as not to get hurt again. Is it a human flaw to be too cautious, or is caution — or maybe a withholding of hope — just a defense mechanism we develop as we go through life? Maybe it’s both. This same caution has prevented me from taking risks that could help me live better.
I am not going to dismiss the fears we cancer patients feel. For me, I don’t believe the fear will ever go away. It’s unrealistic to expect that. Our lives have been drastically altered without warning. We went into this cancer mess with no preparation. We make adjustments and major sacrifices as we go. We have too much awareness now — many of us. In my case, this level of awareness has made me a slave to my own fears. And after all these years, I am still petrified!
As 2018 starts, I remind myself that I am still here and that I should allow myself to have some hope while gently trying to reconcile my current self with parts of who I used to be. I became too cautious after my cancer diagnosis – I’ve been afraid of getting too attached to anything. I think I’ve even been afraid of my old self! The music I used to listen to prior to my diagnosis I stopped listening to, for example. Those old pleasures are no longer a comfort zone for me.
Recently, I pictured my entire life as a pizza pie. Each slice represented a part of my life. I asked myself, how many slices of this pie have I given over to cancer? How much of that pie am I dedicating to fear? I realized that not only are my slices limited, but I’m not enjoying or making the most of the good slices that remain post my cancer diagnosis. A big part of that is because today I focus more on my fears and less on hope. But I can’t be hard on myself for being afraid. There were multiple biopsies and scares since my last treatment. How stubborn can a person be to continuously believe all is fine after all the hurting? At the same time, I realize this is not healthy for my state of mind, always being hyperalert, hyperaware. Constantly being in a defensive state expecting something bad to happen. On the other hand, in some ways, being like this has also created some sort of safety net for me; an approaching to living, but not an enjoyable one.
I’ve come to a time when I wish to examine my life again and make choices based more on hope than fear. This is a risky choice for me. I want to at least give it a try.
I want to clarify that when referring to “hope” I am not saying that I could completely forget what happened to me and all the pain I endured — not just after cancer but also before, as we all have. I want to create more meaning not related to cancer. cancer will always have a slice of my pie, but I would love to enjoy the other slices and taste some new ones. Then, even if the cancer comes back, at least I will have allowed myself to dance to my favorite songs again.
So as Nelson Mandela said…
“Anthem” by Leonard Cohen
“Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.”