3. Disappearing Act
With all the amazing people I know, I have many opportunities to celebrate. Any given week, I would like to attend a few of these fine gatherings: birthday parties, weddings, bridal showers, baby showers, bar nights, art shows, rock shows, operas, dinners, lunches, walks in the park, opportunities to catch up over tea. There is so much I want to do, witness, take in, and learn from.
I used to fill my days to overflowing. And at the end of a full night, I’d collapse onto my bed, happy and enriched, a chatterbox spilling words across the pillows at my love.
But now my energy is both finite and mercurial. All the plans I make come with a caveat: I’ll come if I am able. It’s a terrible way to plan, and it feels unfair to my friends. Sometimes I can give decent notice, but my cancellations are usually last minute.
But what choice do I have, when a day at the hospital might mean that I have only enough energy to get myself into bed, teeth brushed and contact lenses out?
So my friends no longer expect me to show up. They plan for my absence. But when I am able to be there, the looks of love and joy are the best kind of sustenance. I can feed off a single interaction for weeks.
Sometimes, my husband arranges for a back-up friend, someone who could use our second ticket for a play or concert should I be unable to attend. He makes apologies on my behalf, and when he comes home, he recites a litany of names and passes along good wishes and enthusiastic promises of future hugs.
Of course I would choose the people and the events every time, if I could. But hospital visits aren’t optional, and I require what feels like an absurd amount of rest. I have to choose self-care over socializing and be respectful of my body’s limitations, or I may no longer have a self to care for.
So I live with the fear that I am allowing myself to disappear, to lose my social relevance. I worry that one day, the invitations will simply stop, and I’ll be erased from the list of people who make a party fun. I used to be a lot of fun.
My voracious appetite for living has defined me as long as I can remember. As my illness forces me to pare back, I don’t just feel as though I am becoming less busy — I am becoming less myself.
This is how cancer erodes my identity. It saps my energy and pulls me back from the centre of the crowd. It forces me to make choices with my head rather than my heart. And this stripped-down, leaner, more clarified person is what it leaves behind. I may be disappearing, but I’m still here.
I have been reduced. But not to nothing. Not yet.