Last month during those lazy, languid days between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I was beset by an odd rush of energy. I wanted to clean, I wanted to plan, I wanted to prepare to start anew. Normally this feeling doesn’t hit me until the frosty first days of January, but this past year, the moment the Christmas gifts were opened, my psyche seemed to shift toward the future, ready to shake off the detritus of 2020.
I imagine a lot of us have felt this way. 2020 was a hard year for so many. Personally, I lost a job I’d had for nearly seven years, my family got COVID (but thankfully made a full recovery), I experienced some bumps in important relationships, and I mourned the loss of a beloved family member. And outside my bubble, the world seemed to be on fire–sometimes literally. The election, natural disasters, the horrific instances of police brutality that launched social unrest and the absolute horror of a global pandemic, that at this writing has claimed more than 400,000 lives in the U.S. alone, left me feeling powerless and fearful.
I haven’t slept well over the past year. Even on days when I felt as though I was doing OK, as soon as my head hit the pillow, the latent anxiety emerged, my mind racing and my body unable to settle. I’m pretty adept at masking my true feelings, but they always seem to bubble to the surface at night. When I should be sleeping, everything I’ve repressed demands my full attention, leaving me nervous, sad, angry.
Being a cancer survivor compounds these feelings. The COVID-19 pandemic has been triggering as hell for me, as I imagine it has been for many others who’ve faced cancer. The fear of a potentially deadly disease that strikes without warning, the isolation of being trapped in your home, over-analyzing seemingly benign symptoms–“Is that cough just allergies or something else?” It all rings true to cancer survivors. So does the surreal feeling of life as you know it ending, of your day-to-day routines being disrupted, of not knowing what bad thing the next day might hold. We’ve been there; we’ve felt that.
But still, that feeling of anticipation, of hope, returned to me. And as the ball dropped and this new year dawned, that feeling has grown. I’ve felt it as the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine has begun, particularly last week when my 81-year-old father got his first dose. My health care worker husband gets his next week, and I’m hopeful his parents will get theirs soon, too. And I felt a sense of hope as a new administration was sworn in, including the first woman vice president–I’ve waited 42 years to see that.
And there’s this, too–2021 will be the five-year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. Making it to the five-year mark is a big deal, and I’m clinging to that sense of hope that I will not only make it to that milestone, but I’ll surpass it.
Of all the lessons both 2020 and facing cancer have taught me, the power of being hopeful has been one of the most difficult to embrace. It’s hard to be hopeful in the midst of a pandemic, and it’s hard to be hopeful when you know the betrayal of having your own cells try to kill you. But that hope–even if it’s just a tiny kernel, a whisper you can barely hear–is what gets us through these calamities. It’s what reminds us that it won’t always be this way, that nothing is permanent, and just as the bad comes, so does the good.
In this new year, I’m trying my best to lean into that hope. I’m still pragmatic, but I’m also trying to remember that I’ve been through trials before, I’ve felt as though all was lost, and I still made it through. The good came. Life went on.
Here’s to hope, and hoping this year will bring its promise of better days for us all.