For a year and a half I was very sick. Whether it was the cancer itself, the chemotherapy, the radiation, an infection, the transplants and the long list of complications that came with them, or the immunosuppressants, there was always *something* wrong with my body. As strange as it may sound, after a while, I just got used to being sick. Not the feeling itself – you don’t get used to that – but the state of being.
Hi, I’m Justin, the sick guy. I enjoy sleeping a lot, hot wings during the one week out of every month that I can keep them down, long walks around the hospital, and care packages (especially the ones with sneakers). Nice to meet you.
In the beginning, I told myself that I wouldn’t let being sick define me and, to the outside world, I don’t think it did. I made a point not to complain, no matter how horrible I felt or how depressed I was. I joined support groups and started seeing shrinks so that I’d have somewhere to dump my emotions. I made sure to highlight the good things in my life instead of the nasty old disease that was trying to kill me. Because of that, people saw a fighter. People saw someone who wasn’t going to let cancer control his life.
And, that’s who I was.
But after a while, there was a change in the way that I thought. It wasn’t immediate. No lightbulbs went off. I couldn’t even tell you when it happened. But at some point I stopped thinking long term. I stopped imagining what life would be like when this was all over. I stopped making plans with “I should be fine by then” attached. Instead of seeing my fight as a sprint, I started to see it as more of a trek. I knew there was a finish line, I just didn’t know where it was or how long it’d take to get there.
So I just kept going and going and going, until one day I looked around and I had crossed the finish line.
A couple of weeks ago I got all of the good news that I could possibly ask for. I’m cancer free, and my transplants were successful. Soon we’ll be removing the TriFusion line from my chest and my doctor’s appointments will start to get further and further apart. I can travel again, and I’ve even had a few beers. Obviously things don’t just go back to being normal, though – I still don’t feel great all the time and I’ll be on some of these meds for months or maybe even years. There will still be tons of doctors appointments, scans, and biopsies in my future, but that’s a small price to pay to be where I am.
But now what?
It didn’t hit me until I found out that everything had worked that I didn’t have a plan for what was next. What do you do after cancer? Do you just pick up where you left off? Is that even possible? What if you don’t want to? What if you have a long list of new passions and ideas that you want to explore? What if the way you see the world is different than it was before you got sick? Can you put “I totally had cancer and almost died” on your resume to explain a gap in your employment?
I don’t know the answers to any of these things yet, but I figured that I’d start with the things that I do know.
My name is Justin. I’m not sick anymore. I still enjoy sleeping and hot wings, but I don’t spend much time in the hospital anymore. And I still accept care packages. Nice to meet you again.