Let Yourself Sink

Joel was reminding me that three years ago on New Year’s Eve I spent the day getting chemo.  We still tried to hang out with our friends that night despite the poison sitting heavy in my veins.  Joel remembers the delicious food they made.  I remember trying to prop my head up on my hand at the table.

Sometimes I feel bad that it has been three years and I am STILL telling my cancer story.  I am sure there are a few readers out there who are like, “Yeah, Melissa we know.  You had cancer.  Okay.  Move on.”   And I get it . . . I do.  I mean how long can I play this cancer card?

I wonder when this space will be just a blog . . . and not a cancer blog.  When I don’t associate myself so closely with the “c” word.

One of the gifts cancer gave me was the gift of this blog.  A space where I can ramble on a page, press publish, and then let my words tumble out across the inter-webs and land in the minds of a few friends, and a few strangers.  And for some reason this makes me feel more seen, more heard . . . and therefore: more alive.   It still scares the crap out of me.  Public truth-telling is both freedom and fear all mixed together.

I know I’ve said it before, but writing was easier when I was sick.  When death felt like a real possibility, when I was terrified, but also fueled with the thought of: what do I have to lose? Sickness brought this immense vulnerability and with it a courage to be broken “out loud.”  Wellness, has brought back so many missed and amazing things, but it has also reminded me of insecurity, of self-consciousness, of playing it safe.

I think suffering gives us this unmistakable knowledge of what matters.  When I was sick, I could so clearly see what mattered most.  It was like the blinders were off, and instead of standing at the shore of understanding, I was drowning in it.

This is another reason I still write.  Because I am so afraid that I might forget what I learned.  Because I am no longer drowning, I am no longer even clinging to the raft,  I am swimming towards the shore.

I know that some of you reading this are in the beginning of your suffering. The part when you are so sure that you will never breathe again.  The part when your arms and legs are so tired of kicking, your lungs are burning, and the only thing you can manage to do – is to gasp for air before you sink beneath the surface again.  Life as you know it is forever changed, and you didn’t ask to be this broken.

This metaphor of suffering makes sense to me.  This idea that you are in an ocean, and all you can do is sink.  To sink.  And to let life swirl above you, while you become part of the darkness below.  This is when you surrender.  When you give in to the suffering, when you understand that you can’t avoid it: you can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, you can’t go around it . . . so . . . you go through it.  Give yourself permission to sink.

This does not mean you are giving up, or that you are not being “the fighter” everyone asks you to be.  This does not mean you are weak.

There is a peacefulness in sinking.  The light bends differently under the water, and the bubbles that follow you are constant reminders of hope.

People like to say “keep swimming”.  I say: “keep sinking”.  You can’t skip this step.  You can fight with the ocean for as long as you’d like.  Or you can let it swallow you up and carry you to the deepest spaces where the darkness is so loud it only takes a spec of light to remind you that your legs are strong, and the bottom is just below your feet, and your knees are made for bending, and you can push off from here and find a way back to the space where water meets sky.

If 2017 has left you shipwrecked at sea.  Let yourself sink.  Look for bubbles of hope, and for tiny specs of light.

The sink is just part of your story.  It’s not how it ends.




One thought on “Let Yourself Sink

  1. Melissa, I first followed your blog because my younger sister had cancer some 14 years ago, and remains cancer free. At the time of her diagnosis, she had four children, the two youngest of whom were 5 and 6 year old girls. She (and all of us who love her) were terrified but hopeful. We still have her with us today, strong and enjoying life. Her daughters are in college and beyond college. Then in September, our third sister was also diagnosed with breast cancer. I was shocked. We’re all over 60 now, but of course, I know that no one is immune to it. Still, she was diagnosed about five or six years ago with MS, so this was a one-two punch. She chose to have a double mastectomy, mainly out of an abundance of caution, and I have shared your blog with her. I’m glad I did. Your account of the physical pain that you experienced following that surgery matched hers, and it helped me to understand what she was enduring for what seemed an unmercifully long time (over four weeks.)
    Thank you so much for sharing what you have learned. It matters to me and my sisters, and I’m sure to many others you may never know.


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