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Hard Reset: Reflecting on post-cancer life


Hard reset, a phrase we use to refer to the action of starting over. A new beginning. Usually, resets happen intentionally, triggered by our own will to change something in our lives.

 

In my case, the reset button was hit the minute I left my oncologist's office in May 2021, holding a letter with the words IN REMISSION on it. This came after 8 months of treatment, 6 cycles of chemotherapy and 15 days of radiotherapy, all to get rid of my rapidly spreading B-cell lymphoma.


Just like that, I was cancer-free. This news was met with excitement and joy by everyone but me. I just stood there amidst the cheer, hugs and party music, smiling at everyone, but contemplating what my life will look like from now on.

 

See, until that point, I had nothing in my mind but this: survival. Taking it day-by-day, surviving, staying alive. Being officially 'in remission' came with a new wave of anxiety, because although my cancer was gone, there was a deafening question in my mind: what am I meant to do now?

 

Two and a half years later, I am still figuring it out.

 

Now, don't get me wrong: I experienced genuine relief as I steered clear from the danger zone. I felt gratitude and wrote about it every day. But along with feelings of appreciation for my body battling through, I was constructing a new narrative in my head. One that wasn't easy to share with anybody. Because of this, I felt compelled to write this piece, in an attempt to dispel the shame and guilt I felt, and open up about feelings that are valid, especially after receiving intense, life-draining treatment.

 

PATIENT

Early on in my treatment, I realised that cancer is a sensitive, awkward at times, topic to talk about. I quickly realised who was a true friend and who hid behind the barriers of "politeness". I felt a clear distinction between myself and the rest of the people I knew. I felt distanced from the strangers I'd exchange glances with in the street. My cancer took centre stage, exerting a strong hold on my life, making me feel like a patient.

 

Patient. I used that label to describe myself for the majority of my treatment. In my internal monologue, I always made sure to remember that I was a patient and everyone else lived a different life. It sounds obsessive, but walking down the street, I would try to imagine who else was in pain, had chronic illness, or was undergoing serious treatment.

 

Even on days where I felt physically stronger, more capable of doing normal things like walking and reading, I still felt like I was existing at a different tempo and plane to everyone else.

 

Upon hearing I was in remission, instead of feeling the expected relief and happiness, I felt lost as an internal loneliness grew inside. Throughout treatment, there was a general sense of care and consistent check-ins from my closest people. However, post-treatment, my friends' habit of checking in faded away unexpectedly. To them, I was cured, but within, a new battle emerged. The battle to understand my new life, acknowledging what had happened, and moving on. Life was supposed to go back to normal, but what is normal for me? Battling cancer was the one thing I had learned to live with, a treatment that defined my days, and now, not so suddenly, I found myself grappling with the process of making sense of my new body, being patient as my hair grew back, and allowing myself the time needed for processing and healing.

 

I constantly felt guilty for not feeling grateful, frustrated for not being happier after a successful treatment. Life was scary, in the purest sense of the word.

 

I felt mentally unstable, insecure and weak. The mind healing process seemed invisible to outsiders, it was only felt and experienced by me.

 

So, I started from scratch. I journaled extensively to fill up my days but mostly to feel like I was expressing these feelings that would seem selfish and downright crazy to anyone that hasn't lived a similar experience. Writing down my thoughts, my outbursts and silly ideas, I felt I could regain some control and creative agency. I tried treating my journals as valuable archival material, fantasising that someday when I'd be a famous performance artist, "they'll want to use my journals to display this dark period in my life, and how I rose from the ashes like a creative phoenix". 


DANCER

I don't want to talk about my life before cancer, but what you should know is this: before getting sick, (among other things) I was a contemporary dancer. Movement was my way of feeling confident, of making life meaningful. I used my body to express myself. For myself, and for an audience. When I got sick and my body couldn't dance, I felt defeated.

 

I would break into improv sessions in my bedroom when my chemotherapy wasn't wearing me down, but beyond these subtle sparks of joy, the treatment couldn't allow for much more.

 

My body is interwoven to my identity as a woman, as an artist, as myself, and this connection, albeit powerful, suffered its hardship the moment I got sick.

 

One of my hard reset's biggest obstacles has been to come back to dancing. I dance occasionally, it is one of the most fulfilling experiences for my soul, yet it carries so much psychological weight. My insecurities, my body not being strong enough or up to the standards.

 

So, I give it time; with time, I will learn to trust my body, seek its movement, listen to its flow, harmonise it with the rest of my life’s pieces.

 

NOW

I am by no means where I aim(ed) to be. But I learned through writing, by moving like nobody's watching, and with time, that I am where I need to be right now. That is enough. The present, my presence in the present, is enough.

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