The Hard Days

It’s been a pretty tough last couple of weeks for me. Between the intensity of the diagnostic process and the flurry of the holidays, I have been pushing though on a lot of adrenaline. Things have finally settled down, and life has gone back to normal. Except my new normal feels sort of terrifying, bleak, and unknown. I am navigating life in a foreign land, learning the language, feeling my way around, settling, but uncomfortably. It’s been ten weeks since my diagnosis. Two and a half months. A lifetime, yet no time at all. As life has settled into the January doldrums of snow days, hot coffee, and new year routines, my life has settled into an array of pill bottles, side effects, and questions.

Breast cancer is particularly challenging in it’s unknowns. You can get good news one day, and then wake up the next morning with a telltale symptom that will further cause your life to come crashing down. Life swings on a pendulum that has found no rhythm, and those living with it are tasked to make sense of this turbulence and uncertainty. Struggle is, at its very core, a discomfiting thing, difficult and foreign and yet all too familiar. We find ourselves swimming in deep water, unable to touch the bottom, and we have to push ourselves toward some resolution – find shallower ground or tread harder. I want to honor my struggle, to accept it, and to understand it, but it’s very difficult to recognize when it’s happening. One can’t be “good” at struggling – it goes against the very nature of the task.

Lately, I have found myself mourning the life we lost in my diagnosis. It feels like a tremendous loss of innocence rippling out to others in my life affected by my cancer. It’s hard to not feel guilty for creating that pain, even though I did nothing wrong, and could not control the cards I was dealt. Some days are really, impossibly hard. Our toddler continues to be, well, a toddler, which involves a lot of boundary-pushing. I feel incredibly tired, often hitting an emotional bottom, and want to crawl back into bed and sleep for days. But life seems to roll on, unaffected with the tremendous burden we are learning to carry.

The hard days are impossibly humbling. Everything feels immediate and important and pressing, and yet meaningless. I have had to undergo an intense bootcamp on compartmentalizing, accepting, and not looking too far ahead. While we have a lot of dreams and goals for our family, we know now far too well how quickly that can change in an instant. On the tough days, a lot of fear seeps in the cracks of my normal, day-to-day life. I worry that I will never get to dance at Felix’s wedding, or see him graduate from high school, or college. I worry that I won’t make it to see him go to kindergarten. Yet, in some ways, our lives have gone on fairly normally. This feels so strange, like we are imposters looking in on some other family that doesn’t have the black cloud of cancer hanging over our heads. And in some ways, our lives are impossibly different, fragmented, and broken.

In the darkest, hardest moments, I am reminded of one of my favorite poems, Tennyson’s “Ulysses” – I repeat the lines to myself, and feel them etched in my heart. I draw strength from them, pull myself together, and keep going.

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

6 thoughts on “The Hard Days

  1. The fact that time and the world and toddlers roll along no matter what is personally affecting us .. I’ve always found it both terrible and helpful somehow — but you put it into words so beautifully. The fatigue, both physical and emotional, you must feel caring for an active toddler is hard to fathom. I’m impressed with your raw honesty and I hope that as time goes on, the cloud feels less dark. Sending you a big hand squeeze.

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  2. Beautiful post, Emily, and I agree with what Amy said above. I cannot imagine the world you’re now navigating, the new normal you’re settling into. But I think that section of “Ulysses” is stunningly appropriate and inspiring. Sending hugs and love!

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  3. Beautiful post, Emily, and I agree with what Amy said above. I cannot imagine the world you’re now navigating, the new normal you’re settling into. But I think that section of “Ulysses” is stunningly appropriate and inspiring. Sending hugs and love!

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  4. I understand the feelings of what you’re going through as much as I haven’t been through the exact same experience. Sometimes just taking life in every single moment vs. Living with thoughts of “the future” is what you need to do in order to achieve and maintain tranquility. It feels like a false tranquility until the practice becomes a new habit – stopping to love the sunshine, your son’s giggle, the soothing calm of a bath, the feeling of your husband’s arms as he hugs you… these moments of peace and happiness will be the lights that carry you through the datk moments, especially when you cant see or remember the light at the end of the tunnel.

    It stinks to be in a situation where you are forced to take each moment one at a time without knowing what the next will bring….but in a sense life has always been that way, we are usually just not aware of it until a situation forces us to see that. Establishing new normals is uncomfortable but there will be a point where it becomes normal and the discomfort disappears. You are infinitely strong, you will persevere successfully and with much joy.

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