What Was Taken, What Remains

Rosebud dyingCancer is a thief, a cowardly thief. A mugger. A highway robber. Cancer waits at the side of the road until you walk by, just going about the business of living, and swoops down to denude you of almost everything. It’s an ambush.

What did cancer steal from me?

* my physical integrity
* my independence
* my good health
* my work
* some of my friends
* my freedom of movement
* the joy of making lace with beautiful fine threads
* my immune system
* life without constant pain
* my trust in my mental abilities
* my self-confidence
* my body image
* my physical stamina
* my ability to concentrate

Cancer stripped me and left me wounded at the side of the road.

Sometimes I feel angry about that. I’m not angry today. Today I feel a kind of sad nostalgia for my old life, my old self. I was confident, responsible, a take-charge woman. Today I am hesitant, fearful, dependent. Today I need drugs to function. The California university campus in the 1970s didn’t turn me into a druggie; cancer did. I take drugs to manage the pain every day. I take anti-depressant drugs. Sometimes I take anti-anxiety drugs and sometimes I take drugs to help me sleep. Who is this woman I’ve become?

When I stopped treatment I expected to die very soon after. Several years have passed and I am still alive. Alive, but diminished and slowly losing ground. I’m glad I’m alive. I love life. I am learning to appreciate life and living. Don’t you dare say that cancer was a gift or a blessing. It was not. It is not. I am learning to appreciate life and living not because of cancer, but in spite of it. I have known adversity in my life, and cancer is an ongoing adverse event. I am learning to live according to my beliefs in spite of everything cancer throws at me.

What beliefs? Which ones in particular?

* that my life on earth is temporary and eternal life awaits
* that my feelings are not the boss of me
* that love is something you do, not something you feel
* that I am responsible for my actions
* that God created me with all my emotions – and saw that it was good
* that all human beings are equal and equally loved by their Creator
* that I can choose my attitude
* that I am not helpless, not a hostage to circumstance
* that money and status are nice, but are not the most important things
* that I am not in control of most things, but I do have control of myself
* that forgiving others helps me more than them
* that I am very imperfect but I still have the capacity to change

It’s all a process. Sometimes I feel like Xena: Warrior Princess and at other times I feel like Anne of Green Gables – sometimes both in the course of an afternoon. That’s okay. One of the freedoms that comes with knowing that life will be much shorter than I would have preferred is the freedom to accept and love myself in all my different states. To love myself even when—especially when—I don’t fit into a neatly circumscribed box.

Yes, I do feel kind of nostalgic for the woman I used to be and the life I used to live, but it’s not a bad feeling. It is a bit like the last verse of the song that Ervin Drake wrote and Frank Sinatra sang:

But now the days are short, I’m in the autumn of my years
And I think of my life as vintage wine
From fine old kegs
From the brim to the dregs
It poured sweet and clear
It was a very good year.

Image copyright: Nicholas Piccillo

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32 Responses

  1. Diane says:

    You are in heaven now my dear, treat it as such in case there is no after life. ie earth is as you make it, as “Tuesday with Morrie” teaches us, it is all the very small pleasures we fail to notice unless we look for them. Happy Days ~D

    • Knot Telling says:

      Sweet Diane – you know that you and I disagree on that point. Theology and doctrine aside, if I believed that this is all there is I’d kill myself.
      There are plenty of small pleasures every day, that’s true.

  2. stacey says:

    I like the line that you are learning to appreciate life not because of cancer, but in spite of cancer, that’s exactly how I feel. Cancer’s no gift, no enlightenment tool; that comes from within and how you choose to tackle cancer, you learn to live with it. It’s like a dance with the devil in the pale moonlight,

    • Knot Telling says:

      “A dance with the devil in the pale moonlight” – great imagery!
      As I always say, we get to choose our attitude even when we don’t have a say in the circumstances.
      Thanks for commenting!

  3. John Boyd says:

    You say cancer took from you a bunch of “qualities”, including,among other things (my comments follow……for what they’re worth from a person who knows you only thru your blog, friends and FB):

    “my physical integrity” – maybe, but from what I’ve read, you have your “real” integrity, fully intact. In fact, maybe a bit better than it was before you started this battle;

    “my independence” – maybe, but, again, from what I read, you remain pretty damned independent……in spite of (or maybe BECAUSE of) what you’ve been battling;

    “my work” – whether you truly realize it or not, you are probably doing some of the most important work you have ever done, right now, in inspiring those of us (everyone) who has been touched by cancer. Your blogs are courageous, inspirational, depressing, uplifting, and demonstrate that lift DOES go on. It may change, but as long as there is breath………

    “some of my friends” – unless you mean those taken by the scourge, maybe they weren’t really friends after all.

    “the joy of making lace with beautiful fine threads” – OK, give you this one. But I NEVER could even attempt something so creative. And you’ve found other outlets, with your pencils, and your wit and your grace.

    “life without constant pain” – at 70, I’ve learned that every DAY there’s a pain. Not constant, just a new one, somewhere there was no pain yesterday. Today it’s my back and a dental procedure, tomorrow it’ll be somewhere else. NOT like yours at all, but pain there is. Or at least an ache……

    “my trust in my mental abilities” – again, from what I read, there’s not much diminution there. Of course, I didn’t know you BC (before cancer), but from what I see, all your wheels are turning. Wish I could be more contemplative and “thoughty” (like “truthiness”).

    “my self-confidence” – again, from where I sit, you’ve got that, in spades. To put yourself out there as you do, requires more courage and self confidence than you can probably realize. You inspire me to be better.

    “my body image” – at age 70, I will have NO comment about “body image”……..yours, mine, or anyone else’s.

    “my physical stamina” – see above

    “my ability to concentrate” – again, see above. At 70…………….who concentrates any more???

    So hang in there, keep on kicking ass and taking names, fighting the good fight and all those other platitudes. You make us better people, just by you’re being who you are and doing what you do.

    • Knot Telling says:

      John, thank you so much for writing such a long and detailed comment. I really appreciate the message you want to give me.

  4. Susanne says:

    A very poignant and eloquent post. You’re right. Cancer is a thief. We’ll never regain what we lost, but we gain new things in the meantime. The windows open when the doors close, and we continue to live for as long as we have breath, and while our lives may be a shadow of what they were before, there are aspects that we didn’t have before that we do now, and we still live, despite it all, and we still love. That’s what matters.

    • Knot Telling says:

      I’m not really sure if I have anything now that I didn’t have before cancer, but I surely do agree with you that “we still live, despite it all, and we still love”. Mwa.

  5. Tracy says:

    I have been thinking on many of these things recently too Knot. I try to remain optimistic, and give thanks for each day I have rather than worrying about those that might be lost… But sometimes that takes a lot of energy. I cannot see that anything good comes of cancer.

    • Knot Telling says:

      Thanks for commenting, Tracy. My cancer center teaches “realistic optimism”. That sounds like your approach, too.

  6. Gail Speers says:

    I agree with all you say. keep on keeping on… Not everyone “gets it”… I’m off to walk my dog. My pain mgmt Dr says more exercise (like walking) will be good for me. Oh must check I took those pain meds before going out… We have to keep a constant dose to avoid that crippling pain don’t we? Astonishing the drugs we take just to keep functioning. Be well…
    Gail dx bcmet 2003

  7. I love what you wrote. I was diagnosed with MBC 1 1/2 years ago. I too thought I lost a lot if things because of this diagnosis, that was until I read what John Boyd wrote. I think now my life is just different than it used to be. He brought up some excellent points. I hope you live this life we have been given for a long time. I pray you will get more energy and be pain free though, between your words and John’s, I have learned so much. Thank you both.

    • Knot Telling says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Theresa. I’m so glad that you are getting something from the post AND the comments! 🙂

  8. Gail Speers says:

    Hmm I like that… Realistic optimism… Wish my cancer centre had given me that perspective, instead they preach positive attitude, blah blah blah… I don’t go anymore. No wonder, hey?

    • Knot Telling says:

      No wonder! I’m really surprised they still preach that, since so many studies have shown that attitude really does not matter. Plenty of miserable grouches have long survivals and all too many determinedly positive people die.

    • I fine tuned my stink eye over one nurse who kept insisting I just think positive.

  9. Elizabeth J. says:

    So well written. I agree wholeheartedly that cancer is not a gift. Life is the gift and we learn how precious it is as cancer seeks to rob us of it.
    Thank you for sharing your beliefs. You and I share much there. Most of all, I also look forward to my eternal home, even while still seeking to enjoy and be of use in life here on earth. I guess, even though I view life here as temporary, I’m not ready to go yet. I have kids and grandkids I want to be with longer. I tell myself they need me. Reality is that I need them.
    Cancer is a thief, not a gift.

  10. Kathi says:

    Oh, dear one, I love this. Even though I like to think I’ve made progress in accepting how I and my life have changed irrevocably since cancer, and how much I’ve lost since it landed on my doorstep, I still mourn what I’ve lost every day, even as I find something to be grateful for in the present. It’s constant, that balancing act between gratitude and grief.

    Love you to pieces.

    • Knot Telling says:

      Thank you, Kathi. For people like us who are independent and like to take control of our lives, these unasked-for changes can be so hard!

  11. So beautifully written.

  12. Beth Gainer says:

    I LOVE this post. It resonated with me on so many levels. Cancer has stolen so much from all of us. In my case, it stole my health, fertility (thank you chemo!), some friends, a feeling of security in my own health, and my mental health, just to name a few. Thank you for writing such a wonderfully insightful post.

    • Knot Telling says:

      Thank you for commenting, Beth. Cancer stole so much; I’m glad it left some things, too!

  13. Maxine D says:

    I agree – stresses within the life we are given, change us. Our own illnesses/pain/disabilities/loss of function, as well as those things in the lives of those we love. (not necessarily the Big C)
    They not only change us, but also challenge us to live to the fullest where and how we are at this moment.
    Forgiveness does free us, and .I have long believed, and lived, that “love is not a feeling, it’s an act of the will” (to quote from a song by Don Francisco).
    I have come to know you only through your blog, but I have also come to care deeply for you, Knots.
    Blessings and prayers and {{{{{gentle cyber hugs}}}}}

    • Knot Telling says:

      Isn’t wonderful how we can come to have real feelings for the people we meet on line? You are an important person in my life, Maxine. I look forward to your comments with every new post I put up.

  14. I always appreciate and admire how you reflect on your life, our shared disease, your faith, so wholeheartedly. We share many similar thoughts while we have diverse beliefs. For all that you are, who you are, how you love, engage and absorb the essence of your being, I respect and love you tons and tons.

    • Knot Telling says:

      Sorry it’s taken so long to reply, Carolyn. As you know, I was really sick yesterday.

      One of the things that completely sold me on social media is that we connect with people outside our usual circles, be it geographically, spiritually, politically… And I love that you and I have so much in common and so much that is different! The prettiest flower gardens have many different colors, no?

  15. Lois says:

    Beautifully expressed!

  1. 10 May, 2015

    […] thought-provoking post by Knot on what cancer takes – and what it leaves […]

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