So I guess I haven’t written since my good news, like I promised. But since Oct 1st I’ve really just been emotionally numb. I think they call that shock. Writing was not really in the cards because I need to process my feelings before I type them, and I didn’t want to deal with my feelings at all. I, of course, celebrated with my friends here and then I hopped on a plane to see my family in the states. We didn’t discuss cancer much during my trip home aside from some celebratory hugs and drinks, and that was really what I needed the most: a break from the mental strain of dealing with cancer and waiting for news. I’m sure that’s what my family and friends needed also.
When you are told that you might only have three months to live, it’s like pressing the “Stop” button on regular life. After crying out all your tears, you immediately put up all these barriers: “Don’t think about death”; “do this hideous treatment to get better”; “take these pills that are going to make you feel terrible and gain weight”; “live in the moment”; “be your best self”; “don’t lose your shit”…. It is like living in an alternate reality where you do your best to cope with the situation but feel completely detached from the life everyone else is leading. For the last three months I felt like I was watching someone else go through the motions of showering, eating, walking the dogs, etc. Even the fun events that I used to get excited about seemed to be happening to a different person. Thoughts involving sadness and death crossed my mind pretty much every day. Tomorrow was all the future I could anticipate with certainty.
The trip home was just what I needed to help me feel like myself again. I love my life here in Chile, but I have a lot of bad memories of this place. So to fly fourteen hours and get away from it all was the best remedy. Although I probably already knew this, there’s nothing like family to bring you back to your roots. I laughed like a teenager with my sister, had dinner at my parent’s dining table with my uncle and grandmother, ate a LOT of American food and gained several pounds. (Burgers, Tex-Mex, buffalo wings, eggs benedict… all are delicious, but definitely not good for the figure.) Although I’ve moved far away from my family, I hope they know how important they are to me.
The highlight of the visit was participating in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk in Portland with my sister and friends from that area. My friend, Chris Fender, lives in Portland and now has two kids whom I had not met. It was fun seeing them and watching first-hand how great Fendi is as a dad. In addition, Fender had prepared a surprise visit from Chris Taylor, another good friend of mine from college. Someone from Claremont thought it would be really funny to room the two football-playing “Chris”es together freshman year. So they will always be Taylor and Fender to me. Anyway, the surprise visit was pretty awesome and, since it was completely unexpected, made me cry. As did the moment before the walk when the announcer stood on stage and had all the survivors come forward for a picture. I hugged my sister for a long time and sobbed my eyes out for the first time since I learned the news. It felt so surreal to be a two- time survivor of breast cancer, against all the odds. It felt weird to be getting T-shirts and medals and prizes just because I had survived cancer again, but it also made me realize what a momentous achievement it was. I know Ali felt the same way and probably was crying out of relief for her sissy, and also worry for her own health, since most breast cancers are genetic.
Before I left for the states, my husband was talking to a woman who said, “Well at least your wife has breast cancer, which really isn’t all that bad.” I’m not sure where she got that idea. Jon was irate and quickly ended his conversation with her. It is true that many women can survive breast cancer if they succeed in detecting it early through self-exams and mammograms. However, according to Breast Cancer.org “about 40,290 women in the U.S. are expected to die in 2015 from breast cancer…” That’s a lot of mothers and daughters and grandmothers leaving behind families and loved ones every year. I feel like a lot of people think breast cancer isn’t so serious because of all the cutesy pink events and slogans that make it seem like a fun, girly thing to be involved in. I know, growing up, that I sometimes thought that way. But, make no mistake, breast cancer is a deadly disease. The pink ribbons and runners dressed in pink tutus, boas and wigs are just a way for cancer survivors to have a little fun with it and not take it so seriously. For family members and friends, these events are a way to honor people who struggle with the disease or have lost their lives to it. Either way, I am grateful to have so many people who have supported me along this journey. A huge shout out goes to my sister who organized Team Eli Oregon. My sissy is truly tremendous.
I am back in Chile now and it has been a hard transition. I know I need to go back to work and resume my normal life, because, I am healthy once again. All of those temporary walls that I put up to cope with my situation need to come down again. I am having a hard time doing that, however, because I think of how disappointed Jon and I will be when we have to pause our normal lives again and go back to living this weird, cancer existence. But, I can’t think about that. For now I’m looking forward to having more time to see friends and family, and experience amazing travel with Jon. (It would also be great to see my head with hair on it once again!) And so, even though I have a lot of apprehensions about it, I’m going to go ahead and push the “Restart” button on my life, think about the future, become Ms. Timms again, and get back in the classroom. Wish me luck!