Katie Strumpf
"Helping kids with cancer.......a cancer survivor's story"  

A New Norm

I heard the familiar strains of the song, but before I could react, the instructor hastily turned it off.

I was in yoga, and the song was Gotta Have You by the Weepies, otherwise known as Adam and I’s song.

I am lucky that the instructor, Sarah, is so compassionate that she remembered the effect this song had on me before, remembers my weeping as it played this past winter on the 6-month mark of Adam’s passing.

Except this time, it didn’t have that effect.

I didn’t want to weep, instead I found myself smiling.

To say I have changed since that day this past winter is an understatement; I have been forced to change, to grow, to gain an even better sense of self than I ever fathomed. (And I think I had a pretty good sense of self before).

I have been forced to heal, and heal I have.

I have always prided myself on good sense of self, of knowing who I am, and being comfortable in my own skin. For better or for worse, this is who I am. That was yet another thing that drew me to Adam, his comfort in himself, who he was, how he presented himself to the world.

Yet for a while, my identity was defined by Adam, how he was doing, how he was feeling, his treatment, etc. How I was doing depended on how Adam was doing, and it could change in an instant depending on his current state.

I say this not to complain, but as an honest reflection of that time. Adam would have done the same for me had the roles been reversed. Watching him go through that hellacious protocol was heart-wrenching, as was not being able to protect him from cancer.

But when you are a caregiver, you lose a bit of yourself. I know it happened to my parents when I had cancer, and I know it happened to me when Adam was sick. It is just part of the territory.  You don’t focus on it, you just get on with it, as the one you love is sick and you are determined for them to get better.

But I know I lost myself, I lost myself in Adam’s cancer. I thought about it constantly (how could I not?), I researched protocols, I emailed with doctors, befriended nurses,  talked to the insurance company, slept in countless hospitals, kicked a doctor out of Adam’s room for having a bad bedside manner.

At the time I worked for a nonprofit that helped seriously ill-children and found myself in the same position as the parents I interacted with on a daily basis, the position of caregiver. Despite the incredible mission of this organization, I was not supported during this trying time, and I was in a constant state of stress.

 On the surface I appeared as the picture of control and calmness, because when in a crisis, my strategy is to get on with it. Or as I like to say, "Shut your pi-hole and buck up."

Except that crisis lasted almost a year.

I became too thin, I rarely slept, worried constantly, was tired all the time. Those close to me knew that I was barely treading water, Adam often commented that he was worried about me.  I  have since read journal entries of his that reflect this worry, how he didn’t know how I got up every morning.

The irony is that I was thinking the same of him.

Now I live in a new city, have a new job, and Adam is no longer here. I have accepted this new life, have embraced it. After all, I chose it. I chose to move, to rebuild.

My life is no longer spent in hospitals, at an unsupportive job, being a caregiver and advocate for Adam. I no longer wait anxiously for the results of his most recent MRI, I know the outcome.

When I look back on that time I am not resentful, but proud of the way Adam and I handled such a trying time, (particularly him, seeing as he was actually fighting cancer and never complained) I am grateful for the moments of joy and happiness we found during that horrible time.

I still find many moments of joy and happiness, I have much for which to be grateful.  

I wouldn’t be the person I am today had I not met Adam, been lucky enough to be loved by him.

But Adam, and his illness are no longer the center of my universe.

Nor is my grief.

I don’t find myself writing as frequently about the trials of being a young widow, of starting a new chapter of life. For this, I know I am healing.

So when I heard Gotta Have You, the sense of sadness and panic did not settle over me as it had before, did not render me motionless, save for my tears.

It made me remember, smile, and feel grateful.

One day I will write another book, a book about Adam and I, our sad history with cancer, our love. I have been writing it off and on in my mind for a while. 

But for now, I am writing the next chapter of my life.



Posted by Katie Strumpf at 8:56 AM on September 22, 2011 | Comments (0)


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