There is a certain form of a secret handshake among survivors. A knowing nod. A recognizable depth to the eyes. When a person has gone to the edge of the unknowable and yet is still present in this world, that person cannot hold themselves the same.
Survivors speak the same language. Cancer has its own vocabulary. While some forms might require new terms or lingo, we still understand each other– like an American and a British person speaking to one another.
One afternoon I was in a doctor’s exam room. It is actually one of Paige’s doctors. This doctor in particular had advanced stage breast cancer and was absent from her practice for a long while. Eventually, she returned as a survivor but forever changed. On a checkup, Paige heard her story. Then when everything happened to me, Paige told her my story. The doctor and I actually have the same oncologist and radiation oncologist. I remember sitting in that chair and drifting in and out of sleep, exhausted from the high-dose steroid fatigue and lack of sleep.
My chair was directly facing the door, so when she came into to see Paige, the first person she saw was me. Our eyes met and I greeted her, “Hello, sister.”
In that moment I really did feel an other-worldly connection, even if just for a half-a-second.
After tending to Paige (that was the reason we were there after all), we got to talking about our experiences and survivorship. As she left, she gave me a hug and even was conscious enough try to not to hug me on the side my port is on. (My port is on my right side, so passenger seat belts, right-side hugs, and kids putting their weight on my right breast-bone are annoying enough to make me squirm.)
I’m learning this close circle of survivorship is not comprised of only cancer survivors. I am finding shared experiences and feelings with military veterans. It’s a different form of survivorship but the underlying human journeys share so many of the same forms.
The Owl’s Voyage blog talks a lot about going to that dark edge of the unknown and coming back to this present world, and then sometimes having to go back to the edge over-and-over. The feelings in Veteran Voices: Part 3 – Behind the Generator echo what it’s like to get a cancer diagnosis in the form of being given an assignment with a high probability of fatality.
Another post takes me to a time when everything in my hospital room, all of my stuff and their stuff– including hospital-provided cups and soaps, had to be shoved into a clear large trashbag and toted around to whatever room I ended up in. The bag ended up at home and sat in a corner for a few months before being cleared out.
The Owl’s Voyage puts it perfectly when dealing with a bag like that.
My breath returned, although it took much longer than expected. Only scars remain, reminding me of a time when the load was too heavy, too big, too much to bear…a time when I was carried through by grace.The Owl’s Voyage, The Strongest Generation: The Weight of the Bag