I share my cancer life. Everything that is blunt and real about my health crisis is out there for public consumption. It has been from the start.
It was a decision that seemed obvious to me when I was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2017. How many brand-new mums encounter a stage four cancer diagnosis? How many 32-year-olds are given 18 months to live? The tragically lonely certainty of my predicament, not to mention the heart-breaking reality that it was not in fact a rare occurrence at all; it felt like it all needed to be shared. Heard. Understood.
In sharing, I was doing something that I hoped would help me and I hoped would help others. I hoped that if I shared my day, I would feel like less of an alien to the people around me. I hoped that I could provide some sense of connection. That I could give words to an experience. For people who had cancer around them or people who had no idea about cancer or people who just wanted an authentic conversation.
I hoped I could make my captured moments – make me – last forever.
So I did it. I just did it. I boldly sailed my first blog into the online oceans, set my social media profiles to public and resolved to be a (self-proclaimed) ambassador for truth. I was nervous, but I was confident: I was making the right decision. It just felt human.
What happened next was truly a revelation. Perhaps even more so than the diagnosis itself. People told me I was an inspiration. People told me my sharing gave them pause. People told me I had made sense of their own family relationships that hereto they had struggled to understand. People told me that I was changing their lives and they felt empty if they encountered a day without me. I was moved and connected and buoyed beyond my wildest expectations. I was given even more, so much more, to live for. And live I have.
I was being human. That’s all it was, to me. Telling a story that we could all learn from. Being vulnerable in real time. Defying the rules with cheek and charm. Believing that I, myself, could make a difference.
As I did my human thing, humans emerged to be human around me. With me. They were everywhere. Candid, beautiful, fragile humans who live as I live. Who don’t really get it, but try. Who have their own chaos and own anxiety yet still chase rainbows and find wonder. I wrapped my (figurative) arms around them and we, together, woven by globally social networks, moved foward. So much so, I now feel an unbreakable bond to people I have never met, living in countries I have never visited. To people I grew up next to. To people I have always loved. To people I never before had time and opportunity for. And to people I have now journeyed to meet, half a world away, simply to share a glass of wine. Or perhaps it was three.
Now, today, after three years of sharing, I don’t quite know how to tackle a life moment on my own. I don’t do well in isolation.
This year, in 2020, for the first time in any measure of time that is now relevant to me, I find myself to be healthy. To be living my days and weeks in the outside world, the other world, the normal world, without treatment. Without the constant fear that I am about to be sick. Without the constant threat of a hospital admission or another surgery. Without cancer.
After three years of feeling estranged from the ordinary, I stalk opportunities to connect. Strangers, or new school friends. Coffee. Sidewalks. Smiles. Hugs? Does she like me? Do they get me? Am I worth it, or just too difficult a riddle to solve? I am apprehensive around others, as I try to find Nicole again. I have my digital support, but I know I also need an analogue routine. I have finally started to regrow my hair and finally started to work and finally connected to the quaint and simply hilarious frustration of parenting. I finally get it. And I finally feel like I don’t have to stand firm, resolute, perpetually (in the face of any unhelpful damn emotion), ‘grateful to be alive’.
Enter, coronavirus. Blunt, and real, and oh so out there.
The notion of socially distancing myself during a time that I am not unwell feels appallingly cruel. To finally be cleared of treatment and set free to the world, perhaps for only a moment, for as long as we can keep my cancer at bay, and then to be told that the rest of the world is off limits…
I ache. I am angry. And – I typically grateful.
But, can I just declare for all to hear, in characteristically authentic Nicole form: I have been uncharacteristically incredibly anxious. There is stability in trauma when it is primarily me who is traumatised. When it is me who is first and foremost heartbroken and holds the reigns on our collective strong façade. When it is me who controls the narrative.
Now, we all feel so lost. And I just want us all to feel better. I feel desperately incompetent in trying to steer us all to a glass half full. But I will share something that I need to give a voice to, right now.
We are all, each of us, human in our own way. Our own experience is valuable by virtue of the fact that we experience it. And the more we are able to open our eyes to the fact that our one experience is just one, just one of so, so many human experiences, the more we validate and understand and learn from our collective humanness.
When people speak to me about their own lives, their own up and downs, a strange thing happens. They tell me they are going through something, a lot of something, in their own world, and then are quick to qualify that, of course, their trauma is nothing to rival mine. Their problems are a pittance compared to mine. I retort, always, that our problems are our own and relative to our own experience. That we must own our experience, in context of an infinite number of parallel and just-as-legitimately-worthy experiences, if we are going to have a hope of learning from any of them and moving forward from them all.
It is for this reason that it matters less if the next person who contracts a virus is 18 or 80. It matters more that contracting a virus is not good, we don’t want it to happen, and if someone can do something to prevent it, they need to. It is for this reason that whether a local greengrocer closes, or a multinational company fails – a business collapse of any size is a catastrophic event with real, human lives impacted. The one is just as rightfully and appallingly sad as the other.
We are all the same in our difference. Each of us is as important as the other. Our own human lives only have meaning because there is another next to us to experience it with. And just living that human stuff – that stuff we all have in common – could be truly inspirational. Could help someone solve a problem or find motivation or feel connected and worthy. So remember that, think of that, the simplicity of just being human, every day. And always.
We are all in this together.