O LORD my God, I cried out to you, and you restored me to health. You brought me up, O LORD, from the dead; you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.
Psalm 30:2, 3
In Dickens’s novel A Tale of Two Cities, an old man who’s been unjustly imprisoned is rescued. His daughter and a banker (in the days when London bankers handled much more than simply money) went to the jail and asked, “Would you care to be returned to life?” I think of that man sometimes, who wasn’t sure. Facing cancer, I knew I wanted to be restored to health. I had no idea I would be restored to life as well.
My restoration began during treatment, when a friend who’d survived cancer told me that I needed to see or talk to someone daily, even though she admitted this wasn’t my pattern and it would be a stretch for me. “I think your life may depend on it,” she said, and thereafter I regarded spending time with others as medically necessary, like the Aranesp shots I endured to boost my white blood cell count.
I’d been freelancing for nearly seven years when I started treatment, creating my own rhythms for work and rest. Introverted by nature, I had no problem going a day or two without speaking to anyone but the cats. I fell out of that habit during chemotherapy, when I took my medicine and found it tasted good.
I’m not a join-er. I’m uncomfortable in groups, and I hate committee work. Nevertheless, at the urging of another cancer survivor, I joined a cancer support group for women. I wish I could report that at our first gathering—a weekend retreat—I suddenly became outgoing and gracious. This would be a lie. When one woman asked my name, I said, “Why? You’ll just forget it again.” She didn’t; despite my prickliness, we’ve become friends.
I also joined a smaller group of women with ovarian cancer. From that came an invitation to be part of a new group, Survivors Teaching Students. STS is my attempt to give back, telling my story to medical school students once a quarter. More than the other groups, this one fits me and is the one to which I am most loyal.
Being alone is still the simplest for me. But if I stay alone in my snug little apartment, I may as well be dead for all the good I do others. Unlike the old man in Dickens’ book, I want to be restored to health and to life.