“Who am I?” is a question we all consider, especially at the crisis times of our lives. It’s certainly one that comes up a lot when you’ve been diagnosed with cancer and are undergoing treatments. We have been considering that question in our Sustainable Wellness group offered by Cancer Navigators in Rome, Georgia. I’m revisiting that question now, and it’s one that I’ve looked at many times since I quit teaching four years ago.
For 23 years, it was easy for me to say, “I am teacher,” but that was only part of the answer to the “who am I” question. I realized since I quit teaching that I have measured too much of my self worth through what I do. When I’m not earning an income or producing a product or contributing directly to my community, then what is my worth? When I was so weak because of chemo, too weak to do much more than get out of bed and creep down the hall only to lie back down on the sofa – all day – what was my worth? I couldn’t do anything. So how was I valuable? Many days during that time, I felt that I wasn’t. I couldn’t see the purpose of my life if I couldn’t contribute anything. I felt I had no value.
And that’s something I’m reconsidering now. The verb in the question “who am I?” is a being verb. It’s not a doing verb. What makes me who I am, what makes you who you are, what makes each of us unique and valuable and worthwhile, is not what we do as much as who we are. And for anyone going through cancer or any other serious illness, our being becomes the main focus.
And when we’re through with treatments and reemerging into healthy life again, we still have to answer the “who am I” question. Am I healthy? Am I who I was before cancer? And who will I be in this new manifestation?
This series of photos shows me before breast cancer treatments, at my last chemo, and after the surgery to remove my port. I’m physically a different person than I was before breast cancer. My body has been cut in three places, flushed with poisonous chemicals for months, and radiated daily for six and a half weeks. Before cancer, I was basically healthy, seldom sick for more than a couple of days, and the only surgery I had had was when I was three years old. Now I’ve been through months of treatments. I have come out the other side. But who am I now? I’m no longer a patient. I’m much stronger than I was during treatments, but I’m not as strong as I was before treatments. I have hair now, silver-gray hair, when during treatments I was completely bald. But before treatments, I had mostly brown hair that was less curly than it is now.
I look different. I feel different. Am I the same person I was? Yes and no. It’s a question I will revisit now and again, because it’s one that I can’t answer easily. And it’s one that is important. Really important. So I’ll keep asking it.
And I’ll share the askings and answerings with you during my process.
(Here’s a link to Dr. Matt Mumber’s blog and his description of the Sustainable Wellness program http://drmattmumber.com/sustainable-wellness-today/. And a link to his and Heather Reed’s Sustainable Wellness book that is coming out next month http://www.newpagebooks.com/?section=home&product_id=524).