Three Years Add Up

It ‘s been three years since I was declared cancer-free! Three years and I’m still left speechless by the thought. Did I really have cancer? Am I in remission now? Am I sure about that?

Don’t worry. I’m still cancer free (got the clear from the doc back in April). I’ve been trying to plan what I was going to say for this post for, I don’t know, months? A year? Every step I’ve taken forward has taken me in a new direction that changes what I’m going to say, what I want to reflect on and even what I want to share with you.

And I know. It’s been a very long time since I’ve shared anything at all. And I know, I made a promise before that I was going to be back. No more promises. I’m not a perfect individual and I can’t promise anything. I use this platform as a way to share my own life experiences so that I may be able to help the next person down the road who finds themselves in my shoes. Regardless of the impact it makes on the universe around me, I want to write right now for my sake.

So, I’m going to write.

Here I am, sitting in my bed, staring at my screen wondering how I’m going to explain what I’m feeling. For the last couple years, Halloween has haunted me. And not in the cool, hipster “yeah I was totally haunted by a ghost,” sort of way. I mean in the “gross, waking up from a nightmare and vomiting in my toilet at 3 in the morning” kind of way. I mean in the “having an anxiety attack while sitting in a classroom learning about the naumachia in Ancient Greece and excusing myself to the hallway so I don’t have a public meltdown” kind of way.

For me, the treatment process is done. Chemo is done. It’s been done for a very long time. But healing is a lifelong process that I’ve been actively working on day in and day out. Each day is better, but I would get to those anniversary dates and all of my work reverts and I feel like I’ve taken 15 steps backwards in the process. And I can’t place my finger on it, but this year is different for some reason. I’m not reverting the way I typically expect.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still struggling- I won’t lie about that. Do I still have some nightmares? Sure. Do I still catch my anxious, wandering mind drift to the insane idea that a cold I have is covering up more severe, underlying symptoms? Absolutely.

I’m also really, really, REALLY proud. I look back at the last three years and I think about all that I’ve done. Come with me for a moment in my small time capsule:

I got cancer, underwent chemotherapy, and SURVIVED.

I went from this:

To this:

And now to this:

My love and respect for my own body has never been so strong.

I went back to school, during which time I stage managed two dance productions, assistant directed a fringe festival and a mainstage production and directed my senior project which I received grant funding from the university for. AND THEN I GRADUATED. Even more I graduated with honors. This past summer after college was a bit weird. Long story short: I moved home, did an internship at a library, a directing residency at a theatre and worked at a retail store for… kicks? (Money. It was for money.)

Then my super cool residency and internship ended and I was stuck in that lost sensation of not knowing where my life was headed (side note: young adult life is just a cyclical process of feeling lost, finding your bearings, getting yourself in order, then getting the rug pulled out from under you. Rinse and repeat).

I felt this way, that is, until I got a call asking me to come work for a local theatre and I said yes. I would walk into a beautiful building with such historic grace and elegance every day and I was getting paid to do it!

And then I made the decision to walk away. A decision that is heart-breaking, but I don’t regret. I’m eager for what’s to come and who gets to come on my little life journey with me wherever it may take me.

If there’s anything I can offer to you it’s this: YOU are so much more than one event in your life- good or bad. You aren’t loved for what you’ve done or what you’ve experienced, but for who you are. You are loved because you exist.

So has it been three years since I was diagnosed? Yes. Did I really have cancer? Yes. Am I in remission? HELL yes.

When I get those nightmares or I feel my breath quicken, I look at the apartment that I’m now living in, or the office I work in and I remember I am more than that singular experience. It’s one piece of a very confusing culmination that is me: Dana. A young individual learning how to be an adult and maintain a loving soul in a world that forgets it’s okay to be happy.

But if there’s anything that I could have possibly learned from my cancer experience and from the cancer experiences of people around me is that I cannot live in fear of a date or an anniversary. I cannot live waiting for the next bad thing to happen. I know I didn’t mention them, but the last three years have brought a lot of negative experiences as well.

But they don’t matter. They don’t matter because I processed, learned and moved forward, carrying it with me to the next experience- good or bad. I lived through them. I lived.

I’m living.

Until Next Time,

Dana

Dear Bookshops,

I love bookshops. I love what they’re about, what they contain and who roams their aisles of endless adventure and self-discovery.

More than that, I love that they help me to feel and embrace my romantic side because it’s only in bookstores that I completely and unashamedly embrace romanticism in any capacity.

There’s opportunity for us to fall in love with the community a bookshop can reside in. I love falling in love with bookshops where the owner gets to know you and your book preference so well they have a stack of books ready for you before you even walk though the door. I kid you not, I went into a random bookshop in an unfamiliar town and ended up having a 45-minute conversation with a man about a book I happened to pick up that he happened to love. Turns out he was the owner and went to the back room to make sure I had a fresh copy to take home. It was the most genuine moment that I can’t forget.

I love the idea of falling in love with an author’s writing style and not being able to get enough of their creative outpourings. Their heart and soul were stirred into this concoction of a book and here it is, in my tiny town for me to read and absorb under my covers in the middle of the night. Or in a coffee shop. Or at the park. Or sometimes at the dinner table because trying to get this book into my brain takes priority over food in my stomach.

I love that bookshops are pockets of universe both preserving years of history and creating it themselves.

I love being a story keeper. Every book that is added to my little library is now one more story I’ve collected, maintained, loved and shared.

This is my love letter to bookshops. I love you. You’re amazing. Thank you for it all.

Until Next Time,

Dana.

I’m not a fan of it, but I’m learning how to deal with it

Hello World!

So the big topic that we have decided to discuss this month is change. Now, change is not my favorite thing to deal with. I like routine. I like the familiar and I feel a bit discombobulated whenever I get thrown out of it. That is not to say that I have not worked on trying to get better with it.

In my life, I would say that there have been four major changes in my life that have impacted me and thrown me for a major loop. The first major change was when I was seven. My family moved from the town where I was born (Janesville) to a whole new town (Portage) about an hour and a half away from everything that I had known. The second major change in my life was when I moved to a new state to go to college (in Winona) and my parents moved from the town that had become my home (Portage) to a new town (Elkhorn) the same week. The third major change was when I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree and moved back in with my parents (in Elkhorn) for nine months before I started my Graduate program. And so naturally the fourth change was when I moved back to Winona, started a new course of study, a new job, and lived in my own apartment for the first time.

I will not try to sell you that I was happy with most of the changes (although I was pretty happy with my move after I graduated from Undergrad). In fact if you were to ask my Dad how I was when I found out about any of the moves, how I was during the moves, and quite possibly how I was for the year after each move, he would probably tell you that I would be described as  happy camper. But I survived each one and can now look back and say that they each helped me grow.

The one change that I learned the most about myself was when I moved to Winona for my undergrad. I learned how to create my own schedule and stick to it. I learned that I could create relationships with people without having to have someone that I trusted standing next to me. I learned how to balance my life so that I didn’t get overwhelmed or too stressed (stress in itself is unavoidable in life I am afraid). I even picked up photography and started to draw more with that move. But that is not to say that there were not many days and nights when my loneliness was not all consuming or that I worked myself up overthinking every part of my life. That is not to say that there were not times that I wanted to jump in a car and go back to my home in Portage and hide out in my basement (it is probably a good thing that I did not have a car with me for the entirety of my Undergrad…). But slowly but surely I tested something new, when I felt comfortable enough to do so, until I had a life that I was content with and didn’t feel like running away as much (there were still days when I wanted to go hide away but not as many as there were at the start).

During this most recent move, I have reacted the best (I would say so anyway, you can ask Dana or Lilly and see what they have to say about it). What I have found works best for me is to just drive around and just see what is in the town and what is close by. Once you know what is close by, you can make little plans to go to different stores to see what options you have and then eventually you get into the swing of things. You have a routine that feels familiar but is different from your old routine but that is okay because it fits in your new life. I also recommend checking out all of the different coffee shops you can because any obstacle in life is easier to manage when you face it with a good cup of coffee.

It’s okay to be afraid of changes. But in the end, life moves on and the changes that you thought were huge just become a part story in your life.

Embrace the changes you face, or at least try to with a good cup of coffee in your hand 🙂

Emily