The other day, I wrote of the passing of my friend and fellow Hodgkin’s Lymphoma survivor, Tammy. I did as I often do, wrote a tribute to another long term survivor how had passed away, though this time was more difficult.
I am known personally and beyond, as someone who is pretty much in control of his environment and situations that arise. I am not an emotional person which affords me to be able to think clearly, precisely, and quickly for each situation that I face.
Over recent weeks, 2020, in typical fashion, has been cruel. Several of my fellow survivors that I have spoken/met with over the years had passed away, complications of their health from the treatments that cured them of their Hodgkin’s decades ago. Of these three, and really among all of my survivor friends, Tammy was one that I knew the longest.
When I received the news of her passing, I did something I had not done in nearly thirty years, I broke down. I lost it, emotionally. As I mentioned, this happened only one other time in my life, decades before.
Since that time, I had put up a wall, because otherwise, the emotions that I struggled with at that time, would have prevented me from carrying on with things that needed to be done. I had patients to counsel. There were crisis and tragedies that I had to respond to, car accidents, fires, and even a few years ago, the ultimate pressure of getting through Hurricane Irma. And there are the countless others that I have conversations with, often on a daily basis, helping them as they face various struggles in their survivorship.
Don’t get me wrong, I can shed tears, though admittedly I had not really done that. But following my heart surgery in 2008, all of a sudden tears could flow more freely. But what I am feeling right now is more “paralyzing.” I am struggling to concentrate on things that need to be done at the moment.
I have received many comments from friends who attempt to do what even I cannot, try to figure me out. Tammy was a good friend to me, but she was also my role model for survivorship. Tammy was my inspiration of life. I felt obligated that I could never complain about how I felt, because she never complained, and admittedly, her conditions were far more serious and advanced than mine are.
Her passing however, reminded me of our mortality. We fight so hard to survive cancer, and when we do that, we spend the rest of our lives fighting the “cures” that saved us. But Tammy was proof it was worth it. There was so much that she got to experience in the decades that we knew each other, that she otherwise would not have.
I have been reminded by those closest to me, that I have a lot on my plate that I am dealing with, and then there is Covid19 complicating things. Being hit with these feelings, along with the recognition that I am mortal, I am reminded that I am also vulnerable. And it is okay to be vulnerable. But there has to be an end at some point. And I want it to be now. Normally, I could just put it way back on the back burner, and move on. Not this time. I have gotten through others passing away, and I know that I can eventually get through this time. But the longer I grieve, the longer I feel it will take me to get beyond the grief.
These feelings were described to me by another fellow survivor as “monsters”. But then she also stated it is during these times, that when we defeat these “monsters”, that is when we demonstrate a true state of courage and strength. This is what happens when we compartmentalize our feelings, and then get hit with a “gut punch,” with a passing of someone in a similar situation as us.
I remember an incident where my “first” wife, had been in a horrific car accident. She was truly fortunate to have survived. My mother had arrived at the hospital at 2am, and commented on my calmness all things considered. I told her, “I will fall apart later. Right now, I have things I have to get done.”
But later never came. And for thirty years, I guess I always saw this as a good thing. If I didn’t deal with the emotional issues connected to the events, I could spare the heartache. The surprising thing, I have suffered losses of those even closer to me than Tammy, and I did not react the way that I feel now. Then again, there was no relating the common bond that Tammy and I shared, the difficult health issues of the various systems of our bodies, that lead to daily struggles, struggles that for the most part, I never let anyone see. All anyone gets to see is the “shell” that I let you see.
Well, now there is a crack in that shell. In a rare moment, not only can you see that I am vulnerable, so can I.