Yesterday marked the 3rd anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. Each year I reflect back on that time and I'm always struck by how thick and dark the dividing line is between the before and after. The calendar of my life seems to be divided into B.D. - Before Diagnosis and A.T. - After Treatment. So much has been colored by those months of care. And as each day clicks away and I get more and more distance from those days of chemical poisoning, I can see more and more of the effects of what happened after the B.D. and before the A.T.
I loved to draw when I was a kid. Still do, actually. To this day, one of my favorite activities is to color. I love everything about it. I love the thick smell of the crayons, especially ones that are all piled together. I love the waxy feel of crayon residue on my fatty part of my palm left over from dragging my crayon-clutched fist across a creation. I love scraping at the paper on the disappearing flattened tip of a crayon and using that tiny bullshit sharpener in the box to create a dull point on a used stick. I love using the same color to make both gentle light sweeps of color and thick heavy bold lines. Crayons rock. Versatile. Simple. Colorful. Once, when I was pretty little, a babysitter showed me how to lay down stripes of color on a piece of paper. She showed me how to use as many colors as I liked, in whatever random pattern I wanted. Then, when I had the paper filled, she showed me how to take the black crayon and cover it all up. Dark and thick I would lay the black crayon on its side and press a wax blanket of black over all the color. The harder I pressed, the darker the black. The darker the black, the quicker the colors would disappear. With each pressured sweep across the paper, the color would evaporate right before my eyes. Every pretty bright thing would be swallowed up, overtaken by blacknesss.
Before diagnosis, I had spent much of my life laying down bright strips of color. Family relationships – blue green. The Hub –yellow orange. My business – blue violet. Friendships – brick red. Other friendships – olive green. Still others – cornflower. My home – lemon yellow. The Kid – periwinkle, carnation pink, orange red. And the colors were beautiful. Even the burnt sienna and bittersweet. They worked. Messy in places, sure, but as a work of art, it was really coming together nicely. It's pretty easy to see where this is going. If B.D. was laying down color, then treatment certainly was The Black. 12 treatments. Six scans. 3 operations. Countless blood tests, needle sticks and saline flushes. And 1 very scary hospitalization. Each a very heavy sweep of a very black crayon. And with every pressured sweep, my color evaporated right before my eyes. Every pretty thing about me and my life seemed to be swallowed up, overtaken by blackness.
People still ask me if I was scared when I was diagnosed. They ask me what I thought about. Did I worry about dying? How did I handle the news? Did the diagnosis terrify me? And I have the same answer to every one of those questions. No. I was not terrified. No. I did not worry about dying. No. I didn't freak. But that was then. That was a B.D. reaction. And although I can't predict the future I can guess I would react differently a second time around. My A.T. reaction to a recurrence would most likely be different. There would be fear. There would be dread. And there would be panic. Not because cancer scares me more now but because treatment does.
It is black
And it covers the color so completely even the memories of color fade.
The first time my babysitter told me how to color and cover, it was hard to convince me to do it. I didn't understand. Why would I want to make something beautiful only to cover it up with something ugly? I'm not sure how much convincing it took for me to finally give in. Eventually, I did what I was encouraged to do. I wasn't happy about it. But I did it. Of course, at the time, I didn't see the whole picture. I didn't know the final step. I didn't know something else was coming. I never imagined after the paper was engulfed in black she would pull a coin out of her purse and begin to slowly, and with intention scrape the black crayon away. But that's exactly what she did. She pulled that penny across the paper and used it to spell my name – letter by letter. And in doing so, she revealed all the beauty that was beneath. Each letter contained a pattern. A burst of color. Each bit of my name housed pieces of the colors laid down before. Right before my eyes, Jenne bloomed - a beauty that never could have been created any other way.
Today is 3 years and one day since my diagnosis. It is also 2 weeks since my first triathlon and one week from my second. It's not the solution, not by a long shot, but somehow, I think the scraping has begun.