When you are diagnosed with cancer at age 20, you are robbed of the opportunity to mature in tandem with your peers. You miss out on so many familiar experiences, both positive and negative - college house parties infused with that unmistakable jungle-juice aroma of college student invincibility. Mac and cheese and two-buck Chuck during those few lean post-college years, busting ass at whatever job you have and then closing down the bars that night, celebrating the little bit of independence you've eked out since graduation. Love and mistakes and heartbreak and the mostly inconsequential relationships sparked through Tinder. Finally, a salaried job and the sense that you might finally, maybe, be starting to Make It. Life in your 20s. It is different from any other decade - though I suppose all decades have their own distinct flavor.
This week was my nine-year "Cancerversary," the anniversary of my diagnosis. I have spent the past few weeks pestered by an intermittent pensiveness, occasionally considering where I am and whether this is where I want to be. First and foremost, I am Alive. There: the crux of my internal struggles of self identity and accomplishment. If you are reading this, you, too, are alive. Do you realize what that means, every single day? Do you inhale deeply when you step outside and see the sun rising once more, unbidden, in the east? Most days, I do. Most days, I wake up and am awestruck for a moment that here I am, again. It was only maybe two or three years ago when I realized that I could plan for a future. I had spent years just existing in the present, afraid of more disappointment when my plans would inevitably shatter.
The return of my confidence in myself has been so incremental, so snail's-pace slow that at times I still question what I am missing, what I must be doing wrong. I survived Cancer! I can do Anything! And mostly, I'm pretty sure I can do anything, but that isn't the point. The point is whether or not I am doing the right thing. Not necessarily right in the moral or ethical sense, but what is right for me. I am not so naive as to think this plight is unique to me or to cancer survivors. Most individuals struggle with these questions of self and direction, and I'm sure many people never come to an answer.
My adventures and experiences from the past nine years have taught me strange things, broadly. I have learned that our lives are continuations of days. One leads into the next and the next and that sun will continue to rise no matter what our human selves do to ourselves and each other. I have also learned that our bodies and our souls are more resilient than we tend to give them credit for. My body might be broken, but it will still begrudgingly oblige when I ask it to perform ridiculous feats of athleticism. I have learned that at the end of the day, regardless of friends and family and lovers alike, you have to be at peace with yourself because you are your sole biggest supporter in everything. And this seems like the hardest lesson to put into practice.
We are beautifully, tragically, amazingly human, which classification does not lend itself well to ease of living. Life is difficult. Every day, we are surrounded by struggles - private, public, global. Every once in a while, we assess our own lives and ask ourselves if what we are doing is meaningful, sustainable, worth it. In 10 months I will turn 30. Gasp! I'm so young! And the thought of quitting my stable, stressful corporate job and trekking across Spain keeps rolling around in my brain like a marble whose texture enchants me but I don't really know how to play the game and so don't know what to do with besides roll it around. Confidence in myself and my future self. Toss the damn marble and see where it rolls. I am not fully the adult-Caroline, but nine years after heading down this road, I get to keep growing and breathing and learning that we won't get anywhere exciting without taking some crazy chances. I pray for the confidence and faith to discover what living truly means, for me.