The Anniversary Effect. Definition: a unique set of unsettling feelings, thoughts or memories that occur on the anniversary of a significant experience.~ Psychology Today
Five years ago I was simultaneously gearing up for the appointment to look at the lump in my breast, and trying to treat my body as if I were in the earliest stage of pregnancy. I was trying to stay calm, getting acupuncture, drinking herbs. I replay the scenes. Our dating anniversary was Nov 3. I got inseminated that morning. Three days later, November 6, at the watch party where we cheered for Obamas re election. My back was aching that night. So much that I couldn’t get comfortable on the couch. It would ache for weeks more. It would ache so much that before the month was up I was having a bone scan to see if the cancer had spread to my back. I was still cramping a little from the IUI. My friend who had given me acupuncture thought I might be pregnant by the quickness of my pulse. I felt like I was sleep walking. Like I was underwater. Like I was going through the motions with my body but psychically I braced myself. The vibe around that time is a bit surreal and kind of fuzzy and damp and heavy. I felt left out of the experience of trying to get pregnant, in a way. Intellectually, I attempted to rationalize that the likelihood of my lump being cancer was very small. My doctor said it wasn’t cancer, she only sent me to the specialist on my insistence that we do it for peace of mind. She encouraged me to still try to conceive…yet I still felt like a mere observer of the experience when in the car, as I break at the light on 32nd and IH35, Kayla puts her hand on my belly, talks about her baby. I winced with the pain of the horrible thing that I sensed. My mind just went back around to the lump. My body knew.
To write my book, I have been replaying the details of the scenes of this time. The emotions can sometimes be difficult to access, but today they are flooding in. I began to have the physical sensations of illness and the emotional sensations of foreboding, horror, darkness, hours before I remembered that today was the day I felt electric shocks in my womb. The cramping that I had read could mean implantation was happening. There is a part of me that still believes that for a moment there was a life inside, but that it left to spare the pain of making choices about my own survival in sacrifice to the child I already loved.
The grief that I hold in my cells is the grief of a trajectory that could have very well been mine. As time goes by I can even see that other timeline more clearly. The one in which the lump was a cyst, and where I gave birth to our first child, and the lifestyle that would have succeeded that. Even though I have such deep gratitude for the quality and satisfaction of my life in this current timeline, and in many ways believe I am perhaps happier without children than I could have been with, I still mourn sometimes the sweetness of what could have come to pass for us, had I not gone and gotten cancer. There ended up being many more things, ideas, ways of life, ways of being in my body, that I’ve had to mourn by the time it was all said and done. The loss of my fertility being one of the most despairing, still doesn’t even touch the quiet horror and loneliness that I experienced in this waiting period of my life.
Three days later I would have a biopsy. Three days after that I would get a confirmation of cancer. Three days after that I would finally take a pregnancy test. Three weeks after that, I would be sitting in a heap of blankets on the floor, post mastectomy, sobbing with the grief of the loss of my breasts, the loss of that baby that I would never ever have, and the pain in my chest, in my back and in my womb, as the blood rushed out of me with a force that seemed special in its violence, for the second to last time that I would bleed.
Four years ago, I was sleeping on a recliner in my living room, by the window of the sliding glass door. I was recovering from my surgery to start my reconstruction process over again, after the first time had failed with a traumatic infection. The surgery was supposed to be 3 hours and ended up being 6, because my surgeon had to remove skin that had grown onto my chest wall, cut out more scar tissue, and patch me back together. There was a sense of it all being very delicate. I was groping for some sense that things were going to ever feel normal again. Grateful for the pain relief of the Vicodin that I had to take, for I was in need of masking more than the physical pain of surgery. One thing at a time was not really an option. There was so much happening at once. I was taking daily photographs of the hair on my head, hoping to track a detection that my hair was starting to come in more full. In my drugged state I was able to laugh about the ridiculous BitStrips I was making, make gratitude lists on Facebook and watch endless hours of Project Runway, a mental vacation from the reality of what my life actually looked like. My body exhausted. My spirit tried. I was supposed to have been on with my life by then. I very much was not.
The day I got the phone call, I had been sitting in my chaise lounge in the corner of the living room. Our living room was different then. Now there is a bookshelf there instead. I sat in the lounge and I blogged about the call that I was waiting on. When the call came I felt relief that it came early in the day. I paced to the bedroom to grab a notebook and a pen. Something switched inside of me. Survival mode set in as I wrote down Invasive Ductal Carcinoma and the name of two breast surgeons and numbers to call right away. I had direct action to take. Five years is a milestone, as my cancer is less likely to come back now than it was in the first four years. There will always be a part of me that wonders, with any lingering cold, any ache or pain, any feelings of sluggishness or fatigue, if the cancer is back. It has lessened over time. And it will probably lessen more with more time. But at the anniversary mark I may always feel that profound realization that at any moment I could be given that hand again. My body reminds me. It remembers more with subtleties of feeling than I can express in words. It remembers with pangs and pings and heaviness. It remembers with irritability, loneliness, and despair. It remembers with a lump in my throat and a boulder in my belly and an ache in my back. It reminds me with a sorrow in my heart and weariness in my head. It reminds me with insomnia, with fatigue, with depression and with anxiety.
There are many layers to this story, and its difficult to tell it chronologically. I plug away because it shows me where I am hurting and where I need to heal. I plug away because I make discoveries about myself with every sentence that I write. And there is a sense that I can reach back in time and wrap my arms around that gal who was on the verge of breaking open, and tell her that she’s not alone. That I have seen her through it. And that we have lived to tell the tale.