I love that State Farm commercial that’s running on TV now. It begins with a young man at a pool party with his buddies and he declares “I am never getting married” just before making eye-contact with a pretty girl. Next scene, he’s buying an engagement ring. It follows that he and his wife are in a plane with a crying baby behind them. “We are never having children” he says. Next scene is in labor and delivery. And so it goes with moving to the suburbs, having a second child and then the dreaded mini-van in the driveway. The commercial ends sweetly with the man and his family together on the couch and him saying “I’m never letting go”. He’s happily all-in and embracing a new reality, hook, line and sinker.
We all say at one time or another that circumstances and life changes won’t change us. We all believe that we will be the same person we always were, with the sometime exception of conscious and deliberate growth to be a better us. We try to look and behave as we did in our 20’s and 30’s, (hey 40’s would be good) for as long as possible but give it up before we look completely ridiculous. We try to remain a regular Joe or Jane while working hard to climb a social and economic ladder. But if we are honest, we do fundamentally change as life circumstances weigh in. These evolutions of our selves are best shared with our spouses, siblings and friends. We generally change in sync with those around us and it feels natural and can be fun and even enlightening. We’re all in the same boat, and that is comforting.
There’s change that happens sometimes that is not in sync with the rest of our world and that can be uncomfortable and lonely. Maybe you were the first of your couple friends to start a family. For some time you felt odd-man out. You had changed to parent mode, leaving the late night partying and weekend warrior activities behind for, well, parent stuff. Same if you were the last to have babies. You couldn’t find a single gal pal to hit the clubs with you or shop til you drop on a Saturday. What were once easy conversations with your friends became more difficult because the threads of common interests weakened. If you were the new Mom and Dad or the last no-kid couple of your friends social interactions became more like work. The ease was gone. You may have even left some friends behind to find new ones that were more relatable to your life’s changing experiences.
There are a lot of clichés applied to the fight of cancer. “I have cancer, cancer does not have me”. “Cancer can’t change who I am”. “If I show weakness, the cancer wins”, etc. These fight songs are really pretty helpful upon initial diagnosis and first-time treatment. A patient can repeat them as mantra to keep their morale and spirits up for the “x” months of surgeries and treatment. Chronic and recurrent disease is a little different and not as often recognized by the cancer kumbaya marketing campaigns. Like the cute commercial, the first eventful change (boy meets girl) takes on it’s own momentum. Just as the couple go through identity evolution over time, the chronic cancer patient does too. It inevitably seeps into your identity. I am a woman. I am not good at compartmentalizing things so my disease is with me all the time. (The implication here in case you missed it is that men are usually excellent at compartmentalizing…drives us ladies nuts). Something that I live with and actually feel every day of my life has changed who I am. I am a cancer survivor an a cancer patient in active treatment. I am often consumed by my disease. The doctor visits, the now daily chemo pills I take, the review of frequent PET scans and lab results and the growing arsenal of medications for side effect mitigation and pain control. It’s like I’m the first of my friends to have a baby and my focus has shifted and is consumed by the new baby. Even if I get a sitter and go out for the night, I’ll be calling to check in frequently and want to talk about my baby while my friends struggle with what to say because they can’t relate.
I guess you could say that I’m all-in to this reality but only reluctantly and resistant to accept hook, line and sinker.
Now that I’ve over-explained, what I want to say is that I appreciate all those around me that haven’t moved on to find more relatable companions. I recognize that the ease of all my relationships is tested, as a wife, a Mom and a friend. Being an introvert anyway makes retreat a too-easy option and I often struggle with letting myself turn too far inward. It must take great love and patience to continue to reach out and I love and appreciate all my friends and family for their patience with me.