The anniversary of my diagnosis came and went without much fanfare or emotion. It seems ridiculous, obscene even to say it was just another day back in 2011, when I learned that my life would never be quite the same again, but after being mired in the fallout of that day for a year, those feelings have become moot, obsolete, or otherwise rote.
Tonight has hit me harder. On June 29th, 2011, a man with a ponytail glued little foam circles to my forehead. A small child stared at me as I walked down the street. I watched a low-resolution version of Battle: Los Angeles on my hotel room's crappy TV set. I stared out my 16th floor window, across the alien landscape of Manhattan. I wrote a note on my laptop, written like a letter addressed to myself. All I could think to write was that I owed my brother a great deal. I felt like I was writing a suicide note. I knew that those could be my final hours. I might die on the table. I might become a vegetable. In all likelihood I would be impaired for the rest of my life. Would I even be able to read that note? It seemed foolish to me, to think of utility. Writing down passwords or secrets I'd memorized. Of what use are such things to the dead or the brain damaged?
It turned out that I had no use for the note. I remembered my passwords, and secrets (I think). I remembered the kindness and support of my brother. I remembered how terrible that stupid movie was, and that I slept surprisingly well that night, and that the moment I woke up in the hospital I knew where I was and why, and that I felt tired but aware, more like I'd slept hard than had a piece of my brain removed.
I never told my brother about the note or its contents. I never told anyone. As I said, it feels eerily similar to a suicide note. It's hard to start a conversation about something I wrote because I thought I was saying goodbye. Even harder to explain why my brother was the only person to merit mention. The only thing to merit mention. Maybe I'd wanted to write more but lacked the strength of will. If so, then that I do not remember.
Here I am, one year later, and oh the things I have endured. The things I have learned. It is a bittersweet victory: I have suffered the blades, the needles, the poisons, the cancer, and my own looming mortality for a year, but that is one less year that I have on this Earth. One, and I do not know how many more I have. All I know is that it's not enough, and not as many as I've a right to.
But how I have grown in this year, too. I have drawn upon strength I never knew I had. I have muscled through my long suffering with a smile and a joke. I have learned what true friendship is. I have grown closer to my family, and closer to myself. I have examined feelings I did not know I had. And yes, I have found my pain and sorrow, as well. I have shed tears of frustration, a hand to my scar, feeling how this thing has marked me. I have felt such anger against this disease, and I have allowed myself to feel that anger. I have owned it. I have left behind much of what was holding me back, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
I like myself now. I'm more content, more often than I ever was before the surgery. Smiles come easy, and I take all hardships in stride. My memory isn't as sharp as it used to be, and I still stumble over words. My old cynical self would say that I'm happier because I'm not as smart as I used to be. That's possible, I guess. If it's true, I've gained much more happiness than I've lost in intelligence.
There are worse bargains to be made, my friends.
I wonder what the next year will hold for me. I'd like to start dating, but old habits hold me back. I can use my treatment as an excuse for neglecting my bucket list (and neglecting to write one) for the last year. I don't want to have to think of an excuse as to why I've neglected it next year. I want to ask the cute lab tech to dinner. I want to travel. But if I'm really honest with myself, I've lived more in this last year than I have in the decade that came before it, and I've started to break down those bad habits. So I wonder what the next year will hold for me, and for the first time in my life, I look forward to finding out.
Thank you, dear readers, for indulging my ego over these many months. Thank you for taking this journey with me.