I’m not fond of transitions. I don’t like goodbyes, I like beginnings. I like the moment before a significant experience, the moment you jump with both feet into something new and meaty and full of possibility. I don’t like the moments before the moment when you jump, the time spent figuring out which way to jump or where to go or what’s next. And I certainly don’t like the moment where you pull yourself out of an experience and look behind you and say, well, that’s over. Of course, I’ve been looking forward to saying, “well, that’s over,” about cancer for so long now. I’m pulling myself out of this cancer but my body is so warped from swimming in the cancer-pool that I need to learn how to be in the world again.
Here I am, finding myself in the midst of a cancer-transition. I jumped into treatment terrified, but relieved to be surrounded by competent medical professionals and comforted knowing that the cancer center a five minute bike ride from my apartment is state of the art. Certainly, I still have treatment ahead of me- surgeries and hormone therapies and scans. But the chemotherapy is done. The most traumatic surgery went off with only a few hitches. And my hair is now half as long as my pinky fingernail, which is transition on two counts: both my hair and my nails are growing. That’s a step up from where we were a few months ago.
You know what’s weird right now? I miss my doctors. Badly. You see, when you pull yourself out of the most intensive part of cancer treatment, you vow never to take steroids again, like ever, but then you realize that those steroids were tied to seeing this phenomenal and cancer-destroying team. The oncologists probably tie the significant others of cancer patients for the people who most deeply understand what its like having cancer without actually having cancer. The cancer-doctors are the ones who deal directly with the magnitude of your cancer, they address the hardest parts, they say what few others can articulate, and they wage a battle in your body against that which is trying to kill you. Its no wonder we start to cling to them, the people who can tell us what our life and death chances are and can give us a plan to improve those odds. I was seeing them every single week, multiple times a week. The nurses were checking in about my writing and making guesses about which wig I’d be wearing. And now suddenly and without warning, I am only seeing them once or twice a month. Still way more doctors appointments than I’ve ever had before, but enough space in between them to need to look at my calender to know when my next appointment is. Doctors are comforting, especially in the face of cancer. They are doing something. The are fixing something. They are actively engaged in making you better. And so it follows that there is some separation anxiety, some wishing I was seeing them more often, a coveted sense of action that I get from their presence. Ah, transitions. Who would have thought this one would come with missing my medical team?
I do not miss the sheer exhaustion from chemo that had me sleeping fifteen hours a day, or the bone pain migrating from my femurs into my shoulders into my wrists. I do not miss only being able to eat frozen grapes and sourdough, and I do not miss the smell of antiseptic swabs cleaning my port. What I do miss is the way that dis/ease mapped onto my body, and the way that that very clear mapping could be dealt with by a team of doctors. The cancer was there and being dealt with in the form of bone pain, chemo, and neuropathy. The medical team was responding with pathology reviews, many bottles of pills, and very frequent appointments. Now, the physical manifestation is the brick on my chest, and the very short hair on my head, but the pain no longer maps onto being unwell, and nor does it correspond with weekly medical check-ins. It is of course the truth that there is little my medical team could do if I were to see them every week these days- they’ve done what they can. But there is a gap between the materiality of what they can do and the way believing something is being done is comforting- and now I must face the reality that they’ve done what they can. What is left behind is residual, invisible, aftermath.
And I am here, trying to get my bearings in a world that feels like its still swirling, trying to reconcile the cheers of “You’re so ok!” from those around me with the disaster zone that I inhabit. I hold dual spaces, contradictory spaces, one that is distraught and enraged and sad beyond words, and the other that you see, where everything is better. And so it goes. Another transition, here we are.