I'm coming up on the one-year anniversary of my second diagnosis with cancer. That, plus the Thanksgiving holiday this week got me thinking about how my life has changed. A year ago, I had no idea anything was wrong, although a couple of people said later they didn't think I'd been myself at Thanksgiving dinner. About two weeks later, I started slurring my words, and the rest of the story you know by now: Brain tumor. Brain surgery. Lung tumors. Spinal tumor. Chemo. Radiation. And so on.
But aside from the obvious, am I really that different? The other day at a party, a woman came up to me and said, "You're so brave." And I said what I always say: "Thank you, but I'm no braver than anyone else in this situation." People can handle all sorts of challenges and tests, far more than they realize. Almost everyone rises to the occasion. The people who survived Katrina and are trying to rebuild their lives are brave. The soldiers in Iraq are brave. The caregivers, the nurses and doctors who try to save us all — they're brave, too.
My body has changed in some ways that are obvious, and in others that aren't. I have a ridge in my skull where they cut it open to take out the brain tumor. You can feel the screws in the plates that hold my skull together. I'm heavier than I'd like to be. I put on weight when I was on steroids, and I haven't been able to work out much the last year. I hate the extra weight, though my doctors seem to think it's healthy.
Emotionally? Over the past year, I've hit the depths of sorrow, thrown in a little anger, too. Some hope, but probably not as much as I should have. Frustration. The whole gamut of human experience. And maybe that's one of the lessons here. In spite of the cancer, in spite of what we all go through, in the end, we're all just human. We're like everybody else. Except that we're not.
I try to make the most of my life these days. But I was really trying to do that before my diagnosis, too. My view of the future is a little cloudier; it's no longer open-ended. Not everything is possible anymore. I'm pretty much an optimist still, but that has been seriously tested, too.
I've learned a lot from all of you who've written in. Your eloquence and your humanity always teach me things, make me smile or make me nod in understanding. I've learned to see different things. The fear in the eyes of a loved one who wants so desperately to help. The different expressions on a doctor's face, depending on whether he has good news or bad.
And I've learned something that may be the most important lesson of all. I've learned that sometimes the best thing I can do for others, and for myself, is just to say something very simple: "It's going to be alright." No matter what happens, I know that's true.