I had supposed that once Grace had hit maintenance that cancer would be a memory we could put behind us and climb right back into our old skin. I was wrong.
Cancer is part of our world now and will always be. Many times the side effects of chemo can show up later in life and we don't know if Grace will have any long term effects. Even now we're still praying for Grace's GI Nueropathy to heal and that it won't be permanent. We also pray that Grace's cancer will never relapse. Yet the threat of it will always be real for us. We will be intentional not to let that shadow cloud over our lives.
But even if Grace never faces cancer again, we also have several little friends who continue to battle. And I don't doubt we'll make more cancer friends after that. I don't think we'll ever leave the cancer world. We just don't know yet how God intends us to be involved.
Another thing that has surprised me is how much I'd feel. I thought since the worst was over that I would naturally be happier. I am happier. But I am also often surprised by the intensity of my emotions and the timing of when when they appear. During church last week, and I don't know what triggered it, but I had a complete memory of being in the hospital. I saw the long white corridors, the locked rooms where BMT kids live, the nurse station, the smell of antiseptics. And it instantly brought up all the emotions I should have felt that day, but was unable to deal with.
I now know that it's actually a normal response. My therapist taught me that I should expect these sporadic emotions to be somewhat normal this year. Last year was an exercise is staying calm, brave, and numb. This year I will relive last year, especially on anniversary dates, but unlike last year, I now have the time and ability to feel. That is both a relief and a terrifying thought at the same time.
Grace has also been dealing with her experience. She has nightmares about monsters with needles and is asking more questions about what happened.
We've also found out that we can never go back to who we were before. We've been stretched and have grown in so many ways that we don't want to go back. Yet we keep trying. We booked up every available second to catch up with friends, family, errands...only for Grace to be nuetropenic, and we then canceled everything. We realized that this year we will have one foot in "normal" and one foot in "cancer," and that is still a lot to deal with. We also realized that our lives were too busy before and that we want more margin in our lives.
This year we will cocoon. It's like a family huddle. We will continue to focus on each other and keep close together to keep out dangers. In a lot of ways it'll seem like we should be ready to "move on," but inside the cocoon there's a lot of growing and healing happening that might not be noticeable from the outside. If we continue to seem absentminded, unsociable, or even stressed, please know that we're still cocooning. And it's a process that needs to happen so that we can heal.
And through the process of cocooning we're also doing "normalish" things. Overdue things. Like finally potty training my three year old son. (Just as a side note, pee on the wall can strip the paint. Just found that out a minute ago.) Grace is relearning how to play with her brother and with kids her age again. We're learning to ignore bruises again as she is actively dancing and jumping and living again. Not that they don't stop my heart every time I see one, because they do. But we're learning. And healing. And happy.