I love Halloween.
Because I love it so much, October was always my favorite month of the year. The trees changed and the colors exploded. Pumpkin Pie Blizzards came back. And my mom made our front porch a Halloween wonderland.
Years later, October came to mean something else for me.
I cringe for so many reasons when Breast Cancer Awareness month explodes. Because that’s what happens. There is pink EVERYWHERE. Even NFL teams rock out socks or other pops of hot-pink color.
And I kind of hate it.
There are two reasons for this: first, there are so. many. types. of cancer. While I don’t mean to discount breast cancer in any way, I want the NFL to wear all the accent colors. I want to see “save the testicles” cupcakes. I feel that breasts are universally worshipped and thus an easy poster child for a horrible diagnosis. I want people to understand that this is across-the-board cruel bitch of a disease.
The other reason is my own guilt over surviving.
There are things that I downplay about my own cancer story, because I had Cancer Lite. I don’t like to talk about it for that reason. I got out with only four surgeries, four chemos, 33 radiations, and one bald head. The people who supported me because they were already fighting the fight? Most of them aren’t here anymore. And most of the rest are still fighting. The person who took care of me every step of the way, down to buying chickens and raising them to guarantee the eggs I consumed wouldn’t have hormones…the person who made my salads himself on chemo days because only he knew the exact items I could actually taste?
He’s not here anymore.
There are so many parts of my experience that I won’t talk about with anyone, ever, because, as I’m learning while typing, I haven’t dealt with it.
Because it’s not fucking fair. They’re gone, and I’m still here. Not only here, but healthy.
I’ve spoken before about the place I was when I met myself. It plays a part in a lot of my writing, because it’s been such an important force in not only my life, but so many others. So it makes sense that this was the place I was when October found me.
Jamie, our Ignition instructor, was driving us past the mental brink as always when she shouted, “YOU HAVE ALL BEEN THROUGH THINGS HARDER THAN THIS.”
And then she started calling us out.
“JENNIFER JOHNMEYER, YOU KICKED CANCER’S ASS. YOU CAN DO THIS.”
And that’s when I broke. Right there in class, I lost it.
Because the truth is, we all have our shit. We have ALL dealt with dark days. Whether that’s cancer lite, cancer heavy, the loss of people we love whether through death or life, raising children and letting them go…no matter WHAT it is, it is STILL YOUR STORY.
And you still have every right to claim ownership over it. Whether it “seems” bad or not, it impacted you. It changed you. It made you stronger. It aided your growth.
And what I’m learning is that if you don’t own your pain, and if you don’t own your happiness (that’s a whole other struggle we’ll talk about another day), you’re kinda just drifting through life.
If I didn’t claim the fact that cancer was both the most horrible and most amazing thing to happen to me, if I didn’t own that it was the thing that drove me back to school, drove me to finish two degrees, drove me to go after what I wanted, and drove me to realize I had the ability to be strong through times when those around me couldn’t be, I wouldn’t be here now.
And if I wasn’t here now, I wouldn’t have the knowledge that even the dark days have beauty. I wouldn’t have met major players in my game. I wouldn’t get to go home to my beautiful husband every day or my beautiful family and friends ever. I wouldn’t get to know my adult kids as they triumph over, well, adulting, or see my youngest kids grow.
Yes, this being human is a guest house. Welcome in everything that appears at your door, and know that each visitor brings a lesson.