Chasing Life After Cancer

Ever lost a balloon as a kid? I did. I remember the sadness and grief as the wind blew my balloon and the string slipped out of my hands and it floated in the air, gently swaying and waving a sad goodbye.

Just like any other kid, I ran after it but as the distance between the balloon and me got more and more, the realization descended that it has slipped away. It was still soothing, though, to see it blow farther and farther away till I could see no more.
That’s exactly the kind of despondence I felt about life when I was first diagnosed with cancer. My “normal” life seemed to slip from my fingers, the string pulling away and the distance suddenly too far to bridge. As the gap between the balloon and me widened, I held on to hope, a completely conscious willingly-drummed up hope that if only I run fast enough, I will catch up. I bluffed myself. I tried.
Then a wind gust intervened just as my delusion of catching up seemed a reality. And there it was, rising in the sky, away from me. Obviously a lost cause, but I still wanted to see the balloon rise away until it was no longer visible. I kept my eyes on it, squinting to see how far it goes and when exactly does it cross the line from here into “nowhere”.
That’s how living with cancer is every day.
We, the ones with cancer, chase the balloon every day.
We watch others with their balloons, securely fastened to their wrists. We see their balloons, anchored and grounded much like their lives. Manageable, and in control. While we drift and sway moment to moment about the uncertainty of our lives. Negotiating our lives as well as we can, we try and keep up.
Then, someone will ask…
So how do you live with cancer and facing your mortality?
Well…How long is life supposed to be?
How does one measure a life well-lived?
Does anyone really know how long it will be?
How many birthdays am I supposed to have?
Birthdays much like time, are linear. They aren’t dimensional like weight or volume. The weight of the year when you were first diagnosed with cancer is much heavier than a year of optimal health.
The volume of the year your child was born is far greater than any other year when your life expands in ways you hadn’t imagined.
Time is an inadequate measure of life and age is just a number, without a pulse, breadth or imagination.
How do you quantify the depth of love experienced or the haunting intensity of languishing sorrow?
The infinity of the pleasure of being in the arms of whom you love, the warm hugs of your daughter or the pat on the shoulder from your dad is irrelevant to the number of years experienced.
Living with cancer is a lesson is acceptance, adaptability, and reassessment of what one calls “life”.
And you gaze at the sky periodically to see if you can still see the balloon riding the wind. You console yourself, gingerly moving in life taking baby steps. Two forwards, one backward, as long as you keep walking.
Some days the dark curtain falls, the visibility is low and the heart fills with so much sorrow that it feels it will burst open with the sadness it can no longer contain, yet it doesn’t happen. Then you hear a balloon pop. You realize, nothing is certain in life. The air is still there, just outside that small colored inflated balloon. That air still surrounds you.
You breathe. You distract yourself. You count blessings. You smile.
You look around to harvest strength, from a hug, a kind gesture or a gentle prayer.
I often hope that this time when I close my eyes, for sure this will all be a bad dream. But it doesn’t, it lingers and it stays, afloat in the air that so many times is so hard to breathe.
How do you survive?
You try to maintain the balance of life. The balance that is hard to keep, on the scale that is rigged in favor of fear, sadness, and disappointment, yet you still stand there hoping for a fair outcome.
Because everyone gets just one balloon.
Your only chance.
So, you accept your fate with grace. You make everyday count. You get numb to many fears. You put more life in each day. You value moments more than hours. You hold on to hope and faith. You use denial on days when courage is lacking. You smile so you don’t forget how it’s done. You wish and you believe. You cry aloud but you laugh even louder. You hurt and you heal and then you hurt some more. You keep trying!
You keep trying because you don’t wish to be dying of cancer. You live with it and you live despite it. Your fight for the soul that must not die, bit by bit, inside the body that betrayed you so cruelly.
You live as if you are, alive wholly and completely until the day that you truly die.