Cancer tugged at both ends, making it tough to find comfort with the happy, well-adjusted people, or with the sad people either. I didn’t fit anywhere. In a small town, I would run into people I knew at every turn and would try to keep the conversation to three sentences until I’d stammer out an excuse to move on. I found myself pulling away from my community for fear of having a real conversation with anyone.
But the more I sheltered myself from other people’s stories, the more alone I felt. Without an open and real connection, I was only getting filtered conversations based on “what’s appropriate to talk about to the woman with cancer.” More importantly, I realized what a small fraction of humanity I was experiencing. I was missing out on what people were thinking and feeling, the real stuff that comes from deep in the core, from the heart. It left me with shallow, empty talks, when what I needed was the opposite. I had to re-train myself to listen for the purpose of understanding and appreciating other people, recognizing that their stresses and challenges are different yet equally valid as my own. I didn’t have a corner on the market of hard times. I learned that I had to be the one to invite that relationship to get reacquainted after cancer, so they knew it was okay to tell their own story without reserve. I had to open that door or be left stranded behind cancer’s shroud.
I found the ones who wanted the backdrop. The ones who could bear all the gritty details because they knew I needed to release them. The ones that could come to a place where words like ‘cancer’ were to be spoken freely, the depth of those relationships made more intensely beautiful by willingness. It wasn’t until after I was past the tornado of treatments that I could fully see the willing, the ones who helped pick up all the vulnerabilities I laid down. The ones who showed up—who first showed up—and weren’t scared off when I put words to this thing. How much I needed them, people to receive the words of my reality. Because when I said something out loud, it gave it shape and weight enough that we could look at it from different angles. They made it so I didn’t have to weed through this unwanted experience alone. It was so grounding, so wonderfully comforting, to be tethered securely enough that I wouldn’t float off into Neverland trying to find this new me, yet given enough rope when it was hard to see.
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