The Fourth of July has always been one of my favorite holidays; businesses close their doors causing a lull in the air - like Europe on a siesta - while Americans pack and prepare their favorite summer dishes. Independence Day is a celebration that can't be missed: marching bands parade the streets, fireworks illuminate the sky and sounds of joy and laughter fill the air; summer has begun!
I wonder why, then, on a day like this, I'm feeling blue: is it because I'm recently off the anti-depressants I started after my breast cancer diagnosis? Because my family is scattered and disjointed? Because I'm single and have no one to snuggle with under the rainbow-lit sky? Because most of the plans I made with friends this weekend fell through? Resourceful and resilient, these things don't normally bother me, so what is it?
At the BBQ I feel restless and have no patience for small talk. An invented reason to leave early, at home I call my friend Theresa, a fellow breast cancer survivor. "How long ago did you have surgery?" she asks. "May 12th, implant surgery." "Right," she says, "I hit a wall six months after I was done with treatment and had an emotional breakdown...." I finally cried: it's not all the silly little things I'm sad about, it's the bigger, "Holy shit what happened to me the past year and a half?" aftershock. In a crowd of happy people at a joyous event, I feel different, left out, overlooked - unlike the veterans in the parade everyone cheers on, their pain and conquests aren't forgotten. I want to rip open my shirt like the Hulk and bare my scars: "Don't you know what I've gone through, WHERE'S MY PARADE?!"
Apparently, there's more healing to be done.
How have/do you celebrate the milestones in your breast cancer journey? Following zealous hints, my boyfriend at-the-time placed a Carvel ice cream cake in the freezer to commemorate my last chemotherapy. Heartbreak came after my left mastectomy, while the right mastectomy and exchange surgery resulted uneventful; the party my friend promised upon completion of treatment never happened, it's back to "normal."
So what happens after the ice cream melts and the parade passes?
We're left to clean up the mess.
The sutures on my chest have left bilateral scars that are healing and my hair is thankfully growing back; on the surface I seem to be fine, yet I bear a cluster of emotions to sift through. Admittedly, I'd welcome a parade of horns and streamers to validate my wounds, celebrate my hurdles and help ease the pain, but I know once the fanfare ends, I'm left with myself. Thankfully, I have my own sort of tribe to help carry me through this space, comprised of enlightened survivors and experienced social workers.
And you? Feel free to reach out to me...#neveralone.