We are entering Spring, and with Spring comes sunshine, warmer temperatures, trees budding and leafing, and flowers blooming. But with Spring also comes tornado season. I read that just yesterday, the first EF3 tornado of 2014 touched down in Morehead City, North Carolina.
When the weather is threatening and tornadoes forming, we often fear and pray for the people in their paths. After the tornado, we mourn for the victims, comfort the survivors, and give aid of one sort or another. But sooner or later, especially if we live far away, our lives get back to normal and the tornado’s devastation slips our minds, except for once-a-year remembrances. However, it can take years for the survivors to pick up the pieces of their lives, to deal with not just the property damage, but also the grief and terror from that night. The recovery doesn’t end when the storm is over and the sun comes out. It just begins then.
I think it’s somewhat similar in the aftermath of a serious illness (or death or tragedy). During the illness, people understand the need for support and comfort. After the treatment, when the cancer is !GONE! and the crisis is past, there is incredible relief and joy. As there should be. Life begins to go back to normal. As it must. Eventually. Sometimes I think we forget that recovery takes time.
We are, after a long Winter battle with cancer, entering a Spring. The Chemo is finished. The surgery is over. The weekly blood draws are done. There are still doctor appointments and medical procedures ahead, but they are infrequent now. The cancer is gone. JJ is alive and blossoming! He is a survivor! The storm is over and the sun is shining. The story is over with a happy ending. We won! Life can move on! We are eager to get back to normal life. But I want to describe the recovery stage–at least as it is for us–as I have tried to describe each stage of our battle with cancer. It’s hard to put into words.
During JJ’s battle with cancer. We had strength to do what we had to do. We faced bad news. We went to many medical appointments, tests, procedures, and surgeries day after day after day. We spent hours with JJ at the Cancer Center and hospitals. We cared for JJ while he was sick at home. We endured sleepless nights and long days. We laughed to keep his spirits up. We had sisu.
Now we are in recovery. Now we are picking up the pieces. Now that we have survived the life-threatening illness, now that we don’t have to survive moment-by-moment, we are without strength. We are not discouraged, but we are totally, utterly exhausted–physically, spiritually, and emotionally. We are more tired than we were during the months of battling cancer. We barely have enough energy to make it through the day. We are easily overwhelmed by tasks. We quickly tire.
We can go slow, we can try to pace ourselves, but Life doesn’t stop because we are tired. EJ has to go to work every day no matter how tired he is. In fact, he will be working 7 days a week for the foreseeable future. I have to cook, do laundry, clean the house, pay bills, mow the lawn…and other such jobs. We have to take down the dead tree so it isn’t a risk to our neighbors. We have to accumulate firewood over the summer to heat our house in winter. We have to plant a vegetable garden to help with food costs. We are eager to get back to normal, and it’s enjoyable to get back to everyday tasks, but they are still very tiring at this point. For example, we worked in the yard earlier this week and got so tired out that we spent the rest of the week with no energy to do anything. Mostly we took naps.
As for JJ, he is gaining health and strength, but his surgery occurred less than four weeks ago, and it will take time for him to heal and regain strength and stamina. He also has to process his cancer and the effect it has had on him, the changes it has made in his life.
This much too-close-to-death illness has had an effect on all of us, and we all need to process it emotionally and spiritually. I am friends with the Testicular Cancer Awareness Foundation on Facebook and sometimes they share pictures and stories of young men who did NOT survive their battles. When I see those pictures, my heart contracts with fear and sorrow. “It could have been JJ. It IS someone else’s JJ who didn’t make it. How very, very sad.” I–we–didn’t have time to really process this when we were in the midst of the battle.
What I would say to friends at this stage of the journey is that we really do not need anything except time to rest. It might appear that our lives are back to normal now, and we really want to get back to normal as quickly as possible, but “normal” is going to take time. The truth is that we are deep-down exhausted and a night or two of sleep is not going to take it away. I don’t know how long it will take for us to regain our strength and stamina: Months? A Year? Give us a year to recover, to rest, to reflect and process, to regain strength before expecting normal from us.
THIS year I want to hibernate and rest. NEXT year we will have energy and enjoy fun things again. NEXT year we will be normal.