I am struggling to write this post. I don't know why, but I am. I have been writing it for weeks, deleting and starting over. Even as I start this on a fresh, clean page, I have another post, almost complete, sitting in my list of drafts. I guess it is kind of fitting, starting over on a clean page. I've turned to a clean page in my life as well, starting all over again as a new me, changed in so many ways.
One year ago, my life, my family's life, was turned upside down. My diagnosis of squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue hit us all hard, each in their own way. We struggled to understand what this was all going to mean, to figure out what was going to happen. I read articles and studies, first hand accounts and medical notes, and quickly got overwhelmed by the horror stories and pictures. I was numb at first, and then I cried, a lot. But I had Steve to lean on, and all of you, my village, and I started down the path. One foot in front of the other, one day at a time. I had my highs and my lows, a lot of lows. I had absolutely no idea how hard it was going to be.
I'm not going to revisit or recap all the details of the last year. I don't need or want to, and I'm sure you don't want to hear all about it again. It was hard but I made it, we all made it. A little beaten up and road worn, but we are here. But things are different now. Cancer changed me in so many ways. It changed my physical self and my emotional self, my personality and my identity. I'd like to think it changed me for the better, the new improved me. Gayle 2.0
Physically, the changes are obvious and dramatic. Literally from head to toe. From cutting my hair short to losing so much weight that even my feet are shrinking. I have scars that weren't there before, big scars, that in another life I would have tried to hide, but now, I wear with pride. I earned these scars, I'm going to show them off. I am wearing a size I haven't worn since my freshman year of college, no longer hiding behind shapeless clothes. And of course, I have a tongue that doesn't look like anyone else's, one that doesn't work like anyone else's. I'm learning how to breathe again, how to swallow, how to speak. I sound different. Last night Steve was watching an old video of the littlest one. I was taking the video, so you can hear me, but not see me. Steve had to ask if that was me talking because that voice doesn't exist anymore. The voice I hear when I speak is foreign to me, it sounds strange and unfamiliar. Not bad, just different.
I didn't expect cancer to make me more confident, but it has. Cancer showed me that I don't back down from a fight, no matter how tough the opponent. Many people said things to me like "I don't know how you do it" or "I don't know how you keep going" and my answer was always the same. "I don't have a choice...the alternative sucks." It gave me the courage to step completely outside my box and start a business. Before, I never would have tried, too afraid of what people might think if it didn't go well. Not worried about what I would think of myself, but always concerned with other people's opinions. Now, I'm proud to say that my opinion matters to me. Only took me 43 years, but I got there!
Cancer changed my identity. I have been a teacher for 18 years. That's a long time. I think like a teacher, talk like a teacher, hoard like a teacher. I live and breathe early childhood development and play as work for my kids. And then with one rogue cell, I stopped all of that. I left my classroom to go spend Thanksgiving week with my family and I haven't been back. It's been a year since I have taught a lesson, done yard duty, met with parents. I don't know what the future holds, whether I will be able to return to teaching one day or not. I do know that I will not be going back this year. So I have been forced to explore a new identity, a new me. I don't know what to call myself. Am I a teacher out on leave? A stay-at-home mom with a home business? A small business owner? A cancer patient? A cancer survivor? On different days and at different times, I am all of those things. I'm learning to be more fluid, more go with the flow, more roll with the punches.
In many ways, this past year has made me less patient and tolerant. Less patient with people who thrive on drama and less tolerant of people who are just in it for themselves. It has given me a laser focus on what is important and what is just b.s. and I have no patience for the b.s. And no tolerance for people who insist on flinging it wherever they go. I would like to think that I am more empathetic and less judgy, more easily approachable and less closed off. And better willing and able to see the humor in just about anything. My sense of humor may be a little skewed now (you wouldn't believe some of the things that have sent me into total hysterics) but I don't see that as a bad thing. And I know that I am so much more grateful than I was a year ago. Grateful for the big and the little and everything in between. Grateful for forward progress, even if it is measured in baby steps. Grateful for medical technology and low tech snail mail that brought the most wonderful cards in my darkest hours. Grateful for stinky little boy hugs and kisses and the occasional tween approval.
So, one year ago, my life got turned upside down. Was it horrible? Yes. It is something I really wouldn't wish on my worst enemy (I don't actually have an enemy, but still...) But do I regret it? No. Not at all. Cancer brought me to a new and different me, hopefully a better me. It brought me new opportunities and adventures. It brought new people into my life and helped me weed out the ones who weren't right for me anymore. And it brought me so much friendship and love. I'll take it.
Love and sparkles,