Posted by: julia
on Jan 28, 2017
I’m a few days late getting this traditional birthday blog post up this year, because there was a lot going on for my birthday and then I got sick (which I refuse to take as an indication that I overdid it around the birthday shenanigans...it is after all seasonally appropriate and I have been around a lot of people). Today I’m finally feeling better though and ready to contemplate this dual anniversary as I do every year and see what it feels like this time.
For those just now coming to the party, my birthday is also the day I got diagnosed with cancer...the first time, back when I was 23. That makes this year my 25th anniversary of the day my relationship with my body and my mortality abruptly changed. 25 years is a nice round number and worthy of celebration, though it would feel nicer (and more victorious) if there hadn’t also been this new diagnosis and cancer saga part 2 that I have been dealing with for the past year-plus. It’s become interestingly complicated to do this yearly philosophizing now that there are two cancer-versaries to contemplate, but I still like the dramatic dichotomy that this day of transitions from one state to another (from unborn to born, from healthy to ill) presents.
I do still feel a sense of victory, of having made it this far after the initial shock and upset of that first diagnosis. But that sense of victory is tempered now with the reality that life is complicated and the lesson that victory often comes at a cost (which sometimes takes a lot longer than expected to manifest). I can no longer see my life as divided into only three phases, pre-cancer, cancer treatments and post-cancer survivorship—my survivorship status is now no longer something I can confidently assume will not change, since it already has changed once, from cancer survivor back to cancer patient and then back to survivor again. Don’t get me wrong, I’m humongously grateful for and pleased at being back in the survivor identity after a tough second go-round, but the very fact that the pendulum has swung back and forth between having and surviving cancer an additional time makes me have to acknowledge that it could certainly do so again. (In fact, it is more likely to do so again than it once was.) I have to constantly be able to hold two possibilities in my head and heart: on the one hand, that I am free, that I have fought the good fight and triumphed and cancer has once again vanished from my body, never to return because we have salted the earth quite thoroughly (and will continue to for years to come, just in case); and yet on the other hand, that treatments for cancer can sometimes cause cancer, as they did in my case, and that my body seems to be a fertile ground for cancer (as evidenced by it popping up at least twice now that I know of), so even though we have done all we can to prevent recurrence, I cannot be certain that it won’t happen. Holding two opposite things simultaneously and being comfortable in that “gray area” of uncertainty is something I learned to do back in the first go-round with cancer, but now I’ve had a chance to repeat the lesson and it is even more nuanced and complicated. I would say that the ability to live in the gray is one of the hallmarks of maturity, so I guess I would also say “yay me” that I have made it far and long enough to even mature.
Posted by: julia
on Jan 01, 2017
Tagged in: writing
, intentional life design
, Burning Man
Once again I am stealing some time away amidst the familiar familial hurly-burly that is our Stinson New Year’s tradition to do some reflection on the past year and record it for posterity. 2016 will definitely be a memorable year in my book, mostly for purely selfish and personal reasons (helloooo cancer! And also, goodbye!) but also because this past year has definitely felt like a turning point in history, especially with the election of Donald Trump and all the accompanying upheaval in American life. We are certainly living in some interesting times and I am doing my best to stay solid in my values and my determination to keep loving and creating and making the world a better place for everyone.
But before I get too far down the rabbit hole of predictions and solutions for what kind of looking glass country we seem to be dealing with, let me go back to the point of this post, which was to record and reflect on what happened to ME in the year just past (because after all this is my solipsistic storytelling space). With the able assistance of my calendar and my photo log, I ought to be able to at least remember the highlights in vaguely chronological order.
January started off quietly, which was definitely welcome after so much upheaval (cancer surgery and treatments, holiday hoo ha) in the previous months. For my birthday weekend Josh and I got all dressed up and went to the Edwardian Ball in SF for two nights with a bunch of friends and had a terrific time. A few days later we also went to see the Wood Brothers in concert but it turned out to be kind of a bummer show since the band was sick. The week after that I had my first chemo treatment, at which I did not have a terrific time but at least it turned out to be less horrible than I had so fearfully anticipated.
Posted by: julia
on Oct 07, 2016
Monday was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year (5777 on the Jewish calendar). I went with my family to services at our synagogue, where we helped greet and hand out prayerbooks to people, sang, prayed and listened to moving poems, personal stories and the amazingly loud “wake-up” blasts of the shofar. I even chanted two verses of Torah in front of the whole congregation (this is more impressive than it sounds, considering I don’t read Hebrew and had to memorize the whole thing, including the intricate up-and-down traditional melodies). After services, we went out to lunch at our favorite bagel store.
I mention this because this is exactly what we were doing last year on Rosh Hashanah when I got the voicemail from the Marin Breast Health Center telling me that the test results from my mammogram re-do were back and they wanted me to call them (it’s never good news when they ask you to call back to hear test results instead of telling you right then and there). If you’ve been reading this blog over the last year, you know the rest of that story (and if you haven’t, well, spoiler alert: it wasn’t good news). In this time of anniversaries (one year since my breast cancer diagnosis, my triumphant return to Burning Man after the Year of Living Cancerously) and of High Holidays-inspired introspection and t’shuvah (re-turning, redemption) I’ve been thinking a lot about how to put this past year in perspective and what I want from the year ahead. This post is an attempt to record and reflect on some of this t’shuvah work.
So now it’s not only a new year, it’s also time for a new stage of my life: post-cancer. It’s the time when I get to switch from being a patient patient to being a survivor. (Not that you ever really are “cured” and of course I’m still in the recurrence danger zone for the next five years, which is why all the chemo and hormone therapy, but the active phase of treatment and recovery is now over.) On the one hand, I am enjoying being able to celebrate surviving all that I had to endure and I am excited to finally be able to put a confident, weighty period at the end of the sentence “I had cancer and went through treatments and now I’m better.” Yet the other hand is busy holding the question: “so what do I do now”? That’s a big and heavy question, and the answer isn’t necessarily obvious.