A question mark


I jump off the bridge that says "SURVIVOR" in big, gilded letters. I'm supposed to be squealing with delight, but find I am shaking with fear. What's all this about? Four years of cancer rattling my cage at every turn and I am scared to be a survivor? I think about it for weeks, a whole month really, and it comes slowly, the realization of what this big change in status means for me as a person.

As a patient, I had a finite, and fairly short battle in store for me, one way or another. Say, a decade. At 38 years old, I'd know. I'd be gone or fading fast, or picking up steam and climbing a different mountain. As a survivor, time spans out yawning ahead of me again, like any young mother, an infinity of duties to be done, tasks to be completed, joys to be enjoyed, sorrows to be endured, lessons to be learned. I hope for fifty - sixty if I'm feeling greedy - more years to trod this earth. That means surviving cancer for fifty or sixty years. And let's face it, as many people as I know who've lost their life during the initial battle, I know scores more who've fallen off the rolls of survivorship. It's almost worst odds, in a way. It's like saying, okay, I'm not dying now, but now I know that I absolutely, someday will. It's putting death in franker terms, if that's possible.

I picture the nursing homes -and not the kind of freaky old lady name-a Cocaine Katie who embroiders on my jeans we're all longing to become. I'm talking dentures, Depends, knee and hip replacements, no bras, and wearing a mu-mu you got off the back of a magazine to your 86th birthday party consisting of Twinkies (if you're lucky) and bananas (if you're one of the 60+% diabetics) after Bingo. I'm talking whacking someone with your cane for stealing a Bingo number and singing off tune to the off tune piano that plunks out a hymn for the Sunday service. I'm talking slippers and wheelchairs, Lawrence Welk (or will it be Eminem by the time I hit the nursing home - God save me now!) the never-ending stink of urine, and trying to have a conversation with your voiceless buddy who lost his larynx to a pack of Marb's and you're listening through your deaf ear anyway. That's the kind of old I want to be. (Okay, I'd like to die painlessly, in my sleep, holding my husband's hand, the very second before all this occurs. If possible. You know, if you're not busy, God.)

And now that I'm a survivor, one of two options exists. I will still die a "romantic" very Anne-ish, Lady of the Lake and all, premature death of cancer. Or a car accident or something. Or, I will die the regular old run-of-the-mill old and can't remember my grandchildren kind of death. Either way, it stinks. And it is totally, completely real. That's it, folks. That's what scares me about becoming a survivor. I just quit fighting for my life, and I've realized it will eventually be lost regardless.

And I'm scared.

I'm scared of uncertainty. Kind of like looking at a pretty new wardrobe for your new flashy job: it's beautiful, and you're glad it's in your closet, but it's intimidating to coordinate an outfit complete with heels and jewelry. You'd really rather pull on the familiar old yoga pants and hockey jersey from college and cool it on the couch. It's scary to start a whole new life when you're 33. It's scary to look at your kids and realize you might be there a long, long time and realize you don't how to do it. It's scary to look past tomorrow for the first time in years, and find out it intimidates you. It doesn't exhilarate you or enthrall you or envelope you like you thought it would. It is simply new, and different, and takes a whole lot of getting used to.

And so, in light of all the scariness of being a survivor, I've decided I'm just going to be a person. A question mark. An unfinished symphony. A book with no ending. A song in the middle. Jeans just worn this side of comfy. A bike ride downhill for a while. The canoe at the bend in the stream. (I'll stop now, or you're going to start picturing $8 Target remix CD's from the '90's)

And I also hope I am the first ever 60 year cancer survivor I get the pleasure of keeping company with.

Son, from July to December, and how they must have treasured those months!
Encourage me? If you know someone who's survived cancer for 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 or more years, please take a moment to share their story with me in the comments!