3. Dis­ap­pear­ing Act

The Walrus - - FEATURES -

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.

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