Cancer Lesson #70: Staying on Track

Cancer Lesson #70: Staying on track

In April 2011, I wrote a poem about preparing for surgery (Lesson #23), which read in part, “This engine’s going to switch its track.”

The railroad analogy has held true and remains the best way I can describe what it felt like to learn I had cancer.

I’d been chugging along on my chosen track, taking in the sights, when BAM! I was shifted to an alternate route into Cancerworld.

Six months later, chemo – and my time on the siding – ended. I rejoined the “main line,” choosing a slower route with better scenery.

The new route included more stops, sometimes at smaller stations along the way and sometimes in the middle of nowhere, when I was too exhausted to go any further.

In short, there were times I became the little engine that couldn’t.

I’m sure you remember that book: Watty Piper’s classic The Little Engine that Could. If you’re my age or older, you probably read it as a “Little Golden Book,” but it’s published in hardback too.

The little engine’s mantra of “I think I can, I think I can” is a great philosophy, one that had always worked in the past. And yet, in that first year after chemo, there were times it didn’t matter how hard I thought I could. I couldn’t because I was just too damned tired.

I’d been warned recovery would be slow, but somehow I thought my train would be, I don’t know, ahead of the curve.

Tomorrow it will be four years since my surgery, and these days I occasionally find myself taking the easy route, even when I think I can – I know I can – manage the hilly one.

This is a change. After surgery and chemo I spent two years testing myself, trying to figure out what I could still do, but I no longer feel I have anything to prove.

Instead, I’ve begun to understand that we will all die with some goals unaccomplished.

It’s up to us to decide which ones to let go now and which to continue to strive for.


6 thoughts on “Cancer Lesson #70: Staying on Track

  1. Strange how the cancer process lends itself to the railroad analogy. I kept a diary during and for a while after, and I called it ‘On Board The Cancer Express’, because I found myself hurtling along from point A to point B with very little understanding of what the scenery was like in between, I’d find myself shunted from GP to surgeon to oncologist with a crash and bang, and it was all happening much too fast for my liking. I’ve learned that like it or not, I’m damaged goods now, and can never again be as strong, energetic or focused as I used to be. But, Hallelujah, I’m Alive!

    Liked by 1 person

      • Exactly! And always the danger that you’d end up in a dark siding somewhere with the train lights turned off… As for getting things done, I don’t publish the things I fail at so naturally I can maintain my superwoman myth!


  2. We will all die with some goals unaccomplished. The more I think about that line you wrote, the more weight I feel lifted off my shoulders. Thank you, for reasons I can’t even explain.


  3. Gail, I think that’s a lesson we all need to remind ourselves about again and again. When I write something, a lot of times it’s for that reason — just to remind myself of the lessons I’ve learned. Thanks so much for the comment, and for reading too.


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