A little before five in the morning I woke to the quiet whispers between the two women. One, my exhausted, weary mother who stayed by my side, the other, my dear friend, mentor, and priest. One had slept in the chair beside my hospital bed, the other arrived early, the oil of holy unction in her hands; both were ready to see me off to a long, complex surgery.
Six months ago, I was gearing up for a massive surgery. We didn’t know that Not Cancer was not cancer, but the surgery had to happen in this cloud of unknowing because the biopsy was inconclusive. Six months ago, when I asked my oncologist when I would be able to return to work, she looked me straight in the eyes and tentatively said, “If it’s not cancer, 6-8 weeks,” and then, with a note of sadness, “if it is, you most likely will not be able to return.” Six months ago, my world was upside down.
I’d love to write something heartbreakingly beautiful about the grace that I have felt in these six months. I’d love to be able to wax philosophical about what it means to face the intensity of watching your life fall apart, and then the shock at it coming back together. I’d love to be able to speak about the love that continues to flow down from prayer after prayer.
This week marked six months from Not Cancer surgery, and I tried to write about the realization, that six months later, everything is fine. . .except it wasn’t. There are those who have met me since Not Cancer, who don’t know about Not Cancer, which seems impossible.
Trauma is like this, I suppose. We don’t fully experience anything when we are in a traumatic situation. And as far as traumatic situations go, Not Cancer knocked it out of the park. Truly, I don’t really remember Autumn. I remember the pain. I remember the drugs. I remember the hospital room that was (quite often literally) overflowing with love, people, and prayer; but most of it is a haze. I don’t remember Autumn, but thankfully Spring has arrived.
Shortly after Not Cancer, I knew that this would be a punctuation mark on my life; there would be before and there would be after, but it would remain part of my story. I’ve tried to recount the narrative of the last six months for those who didn’t walk the path with me, but it’s just too bizarre, too strange, and, even still, too tender.
The story of Not Cancer is a bit like my physical reminder of Not Cancer: the incision is healed, but the scar is still tender. Perhaps at the year mark, I’ll be able to name the fears that I had to face or the anxiety that those who love me had to wade through, but for now, I give thanks for six months. I give thanks for six months of getting to follow my call when I wasn’t sure I would be able to. I give thanks for family, friends, and community who were willing to journey with me, Not Cancer or not. I give thanks for the peace that truly does pass all understanding.