Fireworks in the Sky
I admittedly have a really crappy memory. It’s actually never really been that great, but I like to use the excuse of “chemo brain” when I really can’t remember things. Who knows if it’s the chemo or not… but that makes since so I’m going with it.
While I struggle recalling events in the past, the six months that I was on cancer treatment 10 years ago remain very vivid. And one night that is particularly clear is the evening I tried to rejoin my life on the 4th of July weekend.
I was at the tail end of my radiation treatments and the hopes of “normal life” were starting to appear. I hadn’t hung out with my friends in months due to my illness. My butt was raw from 30 days of radiation, and I was just plain tired of wearing that stupid, ugly continuous infusion chemo pack everywhere I went. Nicknaming it “Chester” had only helped in the beginning. By the end of those four weeks, I was ready for “Chester” to meet Jesus and get the heck off of me.
I had been invited to my friend Meagan’s house to celebrate the Fourth of July. She lived on a lake within my suburb, and although I was not much of a lake person even back then – not to mention extremely intimidated by the lakeside neighborhoods with their narrow, windy roads and zero parking – I went for it and joined my friends. I had a big group of girlfriends when I was diagnosed, and this was one of the first nights that we were all together since I’d been sick.
We weren’t the drinking kind, nor did we find a lot of fun in rebelling against our parents. So, our high school version of hanging out was pretty low-key. Some had brought fireworks and were starting to shoot them off by the time I arrived. I remember slowly walking down to the water and watching my friends float on rafts and flirt with boys. I carefully dipped my feet into the lake – opting not to swim since lake water wouldn’t quite agree with my immune system. I laughed with my friends. I tried to fit in. I even had a red, white and blue tank-top on to prove it.
There was nothing magical about that night. But for some reason I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember being happy that I could fit into tiny jean shorts. I remember being jealous of my friend’s gorgeous tan and sparkly pink bikini. I remember the sparklers, having fun drawing pictures in the air. I remember trying to fit in with the jokes and flirting, yet not, and while the group hung back to talk and laugh, I went off by myself and gazed at the fireworks above the lake in an “I really feel older than 17” moment.
Life has a funny way of coming in and out, and making you realize that what seemed like a passing moment in time was actually a mile marker in the journey. That night 10 years ago as I watched fireworks above the lake, I cracked open the realization that I was different… and I would never be the same again. My experience with cancer had not only scarred my body and interrupted my calendar. It had changed the dynamics of my friendships and how I would relate to others for the rest of my life.
Surviving cancer doesn’t make one an obvious alien this world, although it too often feels like it. The secret aches from past surgeries and scar tissues, the quiet worries of what will happen next or why that pain just shot through your body, the unspoken questions of how much longer you have or if your kids have your genes – thus is the mindset of a survivor. And while we try to brush it off and fit in most days, it’s often what’s running through our minds when we’re staring off into space… or up at the fireworks in the sky.
When life crisis hits, you don’t always realize all of the areas it will impact until enough time has gone by and then you start to “get it.” That moment on the lake 10 years ago was just a momentary peek into the types of issues I would process in the coming decade. And while the gravity of the situation has come over the years, I’m thankful that it’s been over time. Even more, I’m thankful that despite my moment of seriousness as I slipped away from my friends only to quickly rejoin them that Fourth of July weekend – what really was was going through my head was where I could get another sparkler and how I had managed to fit into my jean shorts that night.