I recently went on vacation with my two sons. Matthew was in California at a conference and Ethan and I flew out to pick him up and do some sightseeing. We did all of the touristy San Francisco attractions, including driving down Lombard street, going to Alcatraz and traveling across the Golden Gate Bridge.
I had previously only gone over it in a car, but since then it has gotten popular to ride a bike over the bridge as well. And that’s what we chose to do. What a great way to see the incredible views. As we started cross it, I thought to myself that the experience perfectly defined what my friend Kim says we should always do: be participators in life rather than spectators. We were right in the middle of the action, not observing from afar.
My mind was so consumed with the exciting experience that was ahead that shortly before I got to the bridge, I realized I hadn’t thought about cancer. Even though I no longer have cancer, it often floats across my mind . Not in a way that I am worrying but in a way that it’s always just there. I was talking with a friend and explained that for me, being a survivor is like wearing a backpack. You know it’s there, it can be a little heavier at times, and it’s always with you wherever you go. But sometimes, you don’t think about it until you look for it. Similar to a “wait, where did I put my keys?” feeling.
In fact, most of the time I was on vacation with my boys, I didn’t have my backpack with me. I’m not sure where I left it, but it wasn’t with me and I didn’t notice that I wasn’t carrying it. I still don’t know where I left it. Was it at the hotel while I temporarily saw the sights or did I leave it at home before I got on the airplane? It’s rarely far from where I am so I’m certain I left it at the hotel or maybe even at the shop where we rented bikes. When I noticed I wasn’t carrying it, there wasn’t the panic that you get when you can’t find your keys or you purse. Then came the realization of it feeling a little lighter and I saw what was in front of me for the moment.
As I write this I wonder if those moments will become more frequent. Will the time between wearing my backpack and forgetting I have it become greater? I have a feeling it will. Between my second and third diagnoses, it wasn’t something I carried with me unless I was going to the doctor for a re-check. My third diagnosis was my most significant, both in the sense that the survival rate was more of a concern than the past diagnoses and the treatment of my third diagnosis was the most challenging. The chemotherapy really took a toll on my body.
Perhaps the backpack is a reminder that I might have to battle cancer again and face the treatment that will surely follow. Whatever the reason, although my backpack is always with me, I look forward to the moments I notice that I’ve left it behind!