I rub my hand absently up and down the scar on my neck; it's a habit I've developed over the past few months.
It's still fairly numb on the surgery site, slightly itchy and sometimes painful. Not really painful, but little tugs that whisper in my ear: remember me?
One year ago, I wrote this about finding the lump in my neck during Finn's karate class. Even though I was far from diagnosed with cancer, I knew. I knew in the deepest part of me that it was cancer, and that I was in for a long journey. I had been a hypochondriac for so long, every little ache and pain was cancer in my mind, that I don't think many people took me that seriously, but I knew.
My primary care doc thought it was a lymph node responding to some kind of infection. Even the ENT specialist I went to - even after a needle biopsy that revealed mostly fluid - didn't think it was cancer.
"If you feel that strongly that something's wrong," he said, "we can go ahead and take those tonsils out and see what we're dealing with".
I wanted - with every bone in my body - to say "never mind". As I've written about here often, I had a lifelong phobia of cancer, way deeper than your average fear of it - and I wanted nothing more than to leave his office with a big PHEW.
I didn't, because I knew.
During the tonsillectomy they found a 4 cm tumor behind my left tonsil, which had spread to my lymph node (giving it the even scarier "Stage 4" diagnosis). And my cancer journey began.
I wrote my way through the cancer, you can read all about it here if you want, so I'm not here to write about what I went through.
I rub my fingers up and down my scar and I think: that was a hell of a year.
I always thought cancer was a death sentence, hence my phobia. That even if you made it to remission with your first diagnosis, that eventually - no matter what - cancer was gonna getcha.
I'm in remission now, and I'm here to tell you that cancer is far from a death sentence.
For me? For me cancer is a life sentence.
Cancer rattles your cage, tips your priorities and fears and loves and work and kids and joys all around, makes them an unrecognizable jumble. It shakes you to your core, burns every secure wall you ever built around yourself right to the ground, leaving you feeling naked, exposed and completely at the mercy of others.
For someone like me, who likes to be in control, who is the healer of others' woes (at least in her own mind), who wants to be out there, involved, busy - too busy if I can manage it - standing there shivering without my walls was horrible.
Until it wasn't.
Sometimes you have to burn it all to the ground to build it back up the way it is meant to be, cancer and all.
I stopped living in fear, and started simply living, for perhaps the first time in my life.
I do not mean to imply that the journey was all graceful realizations, deep appreciations of all I have in my life and gratitude. It wasn't. I had my fair share of snotty, puffy eyed crying jags, shaking my fists at the heavens and wondering why?
The clouds always parted, though, to reveal things I needed to learn about myself, my life, my priorities. To teach me to love more deeply, feel more honestly and access hard emotions I'd always kept tucked neatly under my gigantic To-Do list.
Cancer stops you right in your tracks, and forces you to look deeply into yourself, to love yourself enough to let people help you, to lie back and let it all come, to peel your hands off the steering wheel of the life you thought you were driving, but never really were, anyway.
It forced me to make conscious contact with my faith, in a meaningful and deeply personal way.
At first cancer was all about fear and dying.
Until it wasn't,
Until it was all about faith and living.