Saturday, August 22, 2009

Other People's Lives

Being someone with cancer, I can't help but feel I will always have certain regrets about my life. I have had to make decisions that no person, especially no young person has ever had to make. I have had fears hold me back from pursuing certain dreams, aspirations, relationships. Some of them are warranted. Some of them have proven to come true, justifying the hesitation. Some of them are just excuses because I lack the courage to do those things. I am constantly torn between these things. I constantly question when I make a decision whether it is a justifiable reason or just an excuse, especially if that decision is to not do something that carries some sort of risk. But then I see other people living lives that are so very different from my own. Living out the dreams that I had. Doing the things that I wanted to do. And I can't help but be jealous, and wonder what if the cancer never existed? What if the cancer wasn't a factor, would I have lived those lives, or found another reason not to? Or what if I had truly taken the stance that cancer wasn't going to interfere with my life, and did those things anyway? Would I really be any worse off?

The fact is, I'm jealous. I'm jealous of the lives my friends are living. I'm jealous of the people getting thyroid cancer now, rather than 4 1/2 years ago that are getting better treatment with more options and less risk. I'm jealous of the people who are older when they get thyca, who already have their lives set out, have families, and a stronger support system, jobs, and know who they are. I am jealous of anyone with cancer who is unafraid to live their lives on their own terms, and not by what seems prudent or reasonable.

Like most of my posts, this is something that I have been thinking about for a while now, which had its final trigger with a news article. I read the article and felt like I wanted to cry. My reaction was not one of "yay, they are improving things for people with thyca!" But rather it was, "fuck me, why couldn't this of happened 5 years ago." I went through the emotional gammit of replaying things that this kind of procedure would have saved me from. The first scar I tried to hide with a choker, the memory of the drainage tube that hung from my neck, the elbow to my friend Isaah's intestine when he tried to put me in a headlock b/c I couldn't handle an arm around my neck, the recurrences, the paralyzed vocal cord, my golf swing, the feeling in my left shoulder, chin and chest. I wonder if I had researched clinical studies at the time if I would have came across this one. A life with no scar... my voice. Wow... that did it. Spilling the words instead of keeping them in my head as images, that has made me cry. So yes, I am jealous of these people who have thyca who will never even know that these risks existed, let along have to experience them.

My first real pang of jealousy happened last week while I was hanging out with one of my best friends from high school. She just got back from the Peace Corps; just spent the last few years in Namibia. This is hard for me. Its hard because I was the one in high school who always talked about traveling, doing the peace corps, trying to organize people to backpack... but the plans fell through... I traveled on my own, but for only short stints of time. Lisa, on the other hand, got to do what I wanted to do. She just decided to go one day, and did it. Even before I got sick, my senior year in college, my parents and I consistently bickered and argued about whether or not I could do the peace corps. I've always been sick; allergies mostly, lots of sinus infections. Even before cancer, health coverage was an issue. They talked me out of the peace corps; talked me down to ameri-corps, and then in the end talked out of that for law school. I almost didn't want to hang out with Lisa, I didn't want to listen to her stories, and hear about how great her experience was. It's hard... listening to stories about a life you want. But in the end, I ended up drilling her with fifty million questions. I got my peace corps application in over the weekend. Sure, by the time I get to go it'll be 5 years later than intended, but I'll still be back before I'm 30. The only major hurdle I see is passing the the health stuff.

The other person I found myself both jealous and in awe of this week is my first boyfriend; the first kid I fell in love with. Almost 10 years later, and completely different from who he was in high school, he's still easily the most interesting person I know. And he lives this life that completely blows my mind. I remember, to our friends' irritation, we stayed a lot closer than ex'es should after we broke up; we were best friends. So I made a very purposeful effort not to apply to the same college as him; a decision that took our lives in two very different directions. He now lives in Baltimore, in an apartment with 10 other people that they use as a theater studio, putting on underground productions, and his roommates that are actors tour around the US, and other similar underground groups come and put on productions at his home. He builds sets, fills in roles once in a while. Works as a stage manager, and pulls in about $17 grand a year. And he's totally happy doing that. They are trying to get non-profit status for their theater company, and he's on his way to becoming a professional carpenter. I don't know if I could have ever been that person. To take that much of a risk. I spent hours upon hours over 2 days listening to him tell me about his life. It was sooo different and cool and artsy. And it left me questioning what exactly I would do if I absolutely didn't care what anyone thought of me. If I could totally blow off reason and responsibility, and norms. I think I would be one of those people that travel for years at a time, picking up odd jobs for a few months in random cities until they had enough money to move on. Photography would probably be my profession. I would hit up the indie art and music scene more often, but just as I passed through each place. I roomed with someone doing this life once. She had been on the road for 4 years.

I can imagine a life where I didn't get sick. Where I joined the peace corps, and something sort of snapped in my head, and I became that person who meandered around doing odd jobs and volunteer work, taught English in various countries to make ends meet (people go to cambodia all the time w/out a clue what they are doing, and pick up teaching positions... one of the highest paid things you can do there, and they desperately need teachers... the only thing that keeps me from going back is that too long there and you can't function when you come back, and I'm not big on teaching). Then the adventures and challenges in my life would be stories worth listening to, and not the gripes and pains of someone who is sick.

There's a bizarre comfort in thinking about the person I could have been. I'm not sure why but the idea that things are this way now, is due to the cancer rather than my own character flaws is somehow reassuring. It also makes me feel like, if I can still imagine that life, maybe I can still achieve some parts of it. Being sick hasn't completely quashed that part of my character. Even though I'm jealous of my friends who have already done these things, I've done a lot too. And its extra motivation for me to still live. Maybe the jealousy is good. A motivating factor. Divine intervention to get me moving.


Daria said...

I can so relate to the jealousy ... I often stay home so I don't have to see healthy people living full lives. If I don't see it, I don't think about it.

So many missed opportunities ... I'm trying to find a way to channel that energy elsewhere but it's difficult.

Charlcie Steuble said...

Thank you for your very honest post! I could relate in so many ways...and appreciated so much that you laid it all out there for us.

Manu thanks...