Unbowed

I visited the office on Friday for an all-team meeting. It was to be the first time meeting everyone since well before my cancer, and so I’d targeted it as something I had to attend.

I didn’t know what everyone knew of me, and figured there might be a bit of innuendo and mystery about my health status. I wanted to clear that up. I attended, not so much for myself, but so everyone could set eyes on me and see for themselves. I wanted to get it out of the way and move on.

I’ve been asked if I was nervous: not at all. It’s strange in a way as I have moments of self-consciousness now when strangers set eyes upon my imperfect visage. I’m much better looking than I was, and much better than I expected, but I still look a bit beaten up, and there’s a permanent blood stain at the corner of my nostril. One look at me and you know I’ve been through travails, and may be still. I dislike the attention.

I had no fear of that returning to work. I probably looked forward to it, and not only because I could tick the moment off. I wanted them to see me and know that no matter how tough it had been, I remained strong.

That’s more or less how it worked out.

I was early and went for a coffee. At the cafe, I ran into some women from the office who gushed over me. They asked questions and proclaimed how well I looked, as if surprised. One was kind enough to be shocked when she heard my age – she thought I was at least ten years younger, or so she claimed, and that’s with the beard I have now and the misshapen bits. Now, that’s more like it.

I was bright and even a little provocative. A tad raffish, and even a little flirtatious. I enjoyed the attention.

Upstairs, once we all collected, I had people greet me or pat me on the back as they passed by. I didn’t seek attention, nor to make anything of what had happened to me. I was there in the same capacity as everyone else, and when I came to talk to some made sure it was as much about them as it was me.

For a while, I’ve wondered where I’ll end up at the end of all this. Lately, I feel as if I’ve got a better idea of that.

For want of a better word, I’ve felt more vibrant. Serious illness tends to make you more insular. If you’re like me, you gather all your strength and will to resist it, physically and mentally. It takes discipline, but in the act of it you withdraw further into yourself and become – unsurprisingly – self-absorbed.

I don’t know why it’s changed, but I feel myself looking outward more often lately. I have no doubt about my strength or capability. In ways, this experience has given me insight into the stuff I’m made of. At the same time, I feel as if it’s cleared out some of bad habits and ways of thinking that were holding me back before.

Looking back over the last 8-9 years, I feel as if I experienced a series of traumas that inhibited me. I hate to admit to that, but the evidence is pretty clear in my inability to properly settle or believe in good things. It affected my personality as well, something that seems clear now that I’m feeling differently.

There’s no doubt I was scarred, and for good reason. But there’s no bigger scar than when you survive stage four cancer, and it appears to have over-written the previous scars in my mind. And surviving – well, it’s the best sort of scar, no matter the fear that led up to it. I’m a survivor.

I felt that on Friday. I stood there feeling dignified and strong. I felt people checking me out and I wanted them to know that – but it felt true.

I still don’t know what course I’ll take once I’m free of this, but feel sure I’ll be direct and uninhibited in my manner. I’ve always been direct, but in recent years it’s been tinged with anger. That’s gone, I think. I’ll be true to myself, without any second-guessing. It’s just a moment in time, but I feel elevated in ways – just as smart and strong as I ever was, but with a calmness now that was missing before (people have always commented on how unflappable I seem, but in recent years I often seethed beneath the surface). With that comes an openness, and even warmth, absent since my mother died.

All this is talk and there’s a long way to go, and there will be setbacks. But, at least, I can see now how things can be.

Just quietly, when the cancer is behind me, I have a feeling I might do great things.

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