I have a lot I need to say here, so I am going to do a series of posts. The jest of it is how cancer has affected my life and my future and my dreams. My life’s evolution on the cancer path.

My cancer journey has been very long and very difficult. Funny thing about being a long term survivor…I can’t remember now what it felt like to have a life without cancer as an impending threat. I can’t really remember a life before there was the cancer “elephant in the room”.

I’ve survived a long time now, 7 years. You’d think I would feel “cured” and feel able to go back to my old life, my life that wasn’t about cancer. Back to my old “before cancer” normal life. I think people who knew me before cancer assume that’s how my life should be now. I should be the same person I used to be before cancer. After all, I’ve passed the 5 year mark. Cancer should be in my past, I should have moved on by now. Be the person I used to be.

But I’m not the same as I was before cancer. I can never go back to who I was before cancer. It’s a universal truth those of us in the cancer community come to know and accept. Our old normal is gone. Cancer is a new part of our identity.

I feel a little less vulnerable now being a long term survivor. I feel a little safer. Cancer seems a more distant and not such an immediate threat. But I will probably never feel totally safe and invulnerable again. I will always be on guard for the bad and devastating thing that might happen. I am wiser. I am less naive. I know that at any moment the bottom can fall out of our lives. It happened to me once. I know to be ready. Cancer stole a certain innocence from me. I no longer expect life to be good, to be fair. I live in the cancer community, a place where unfairness reigns.

A woman at work recently heard my story. She was so amazed. That I had had a terrible cancer, that I had survived. And I recognized in her the me before my cancer diagnosis. The me who once heard cancer stories that belonged to someone else, stories that were distant, that didn’t affect my life. I remembered when I was like her… I put money in the jar at the gas station for the person afflicted by a terrible cancer. The other person’s family member, the other person with a cancer diagnosis. The other person with a terrible disease. Not me. I was on the outside of the cancer world then.

Now I know what it’s like to be the person who’s picture is on the jar at the gas station. To be one of the afflicted. To be the one circling the drain. I don’t hold on to tightly to anything or anyone now. I know we may be asked to let go at any time…of everything, of everyone, of our all, of our world as we know it. I know I always need to be prepared for the unexpected.

But cancer has given me gifts, made my life richer and more meaningful. More profound. I never thought I would feel this way, but I wouldn’t want to go back to my before cancer normal now, my before cancer life. I’ll talk more about that in my next posts.