It’s the 10th anniversary of the amputation of my right leg, and I have the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme bouncing around in my head. The rhyme concludes with bad news: All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.
We could paraphrase this for me: All the great surgeons and all the strong meds couldn’t put Laura together again.
It’s been 10 years since the combination of past cancer, scar tissue, complications, wear-and-tear, and repeated infections screwed up my right leg so badly that an above-knee amputation was a better deal than trying to rebuild the leg yet again. It feels like it’s been way longer than that, and also like it cannot possibly have been so long ago.
I feel intense gratitude that I am alive and reasonably well. And I also feel as cranky as a toddler who missed her nap as I cope with phantom limb pain, the eccentricities of my prosthetic leg, and the endless mundane details of amputee-hood.
The challenge remains in negotiating a healthy balance between gratitude and crankiness. I’d prefer to be so steeped in love, compassion, and gratitude that I never feel like a kid having a tantrum, but I haven’t figured out how to stay in that perpetual state of peace. No one ever does.
One of the many incredibly practical things my therapist taught me–and probably many, many therapists attempt to teach their own stubborn clients–is that there is no there there. That is, there is no point you can reach in which it is all better, all fixed, all sustainable, all perfect. You can never get there, because there is a moving target.
I hate this insight and I love it in equal measure. I hate it because the longing to be done with cancer late effects once and for all is so strong that I ache for it, and its continual absence makes me cranky. And yet if there is no there, then it’s not my fault that I haven’t arrived there, which is a huge relief. Also, this means no one else is already there, looking down their nose at me because they made it and I didn’t.
This 10th anniversary marks a decade past the last of my 17 surgeries. I feel like this milestone should be the there I have been trying to reach. After all, so much has happened. Ten years is long enough to have reached my 25th wedding anniversary, to have been promoted to full professor at my university, to have moved into what we hope will be our forever home, for my youngest niece and nephew to be tweens and my beloved kitties to become middle-aged.
Ten years of survivorship has taught me so much, including much I would rather have skipped. The milestones and accomplishments of this decade are meaningful to me, even though they can’t always offset the crankiness-inducing realities of late effects.
On a whim, I looked up the traditional 10th wedding anniversary gift and found that it is tin or aluminum. Those metals are durable and flexible, qualities needed in any longterm relationship and a good reminder of what I should strive for myself as a long-term cancer survivor and amputee. Perhaps if Humpty Dumpty had had more of those qualities, the king’s men could have put him together again.