The Blog

Surviving Breast Cancer, Heartbreak, And Depression

As I struggle to reinvent my life in the wake of breast cancer, financial ruin and clinical depression, I realize that what I need most is predictability, routine, familiarity.
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It's another sleepless night. Insomnia tortures me. I can't tell if I'm afraid of what awaits me in my unconscious mind or afraid of waking to find that the new day has brought no relief to the dark depression I am suffocating from.

It's 6:05 am Saturday morning. I haven't slept one minute. I read an entire book, "The Lost Boys of Sudan." I was captivated and distracted from my own suffering, seemingly petty in comparison to 5-year-old boys walking hundreds of miles through war, starving, thirsty and absent of the nurturing love of their mothers. I kept thinking I should be able to snap out of this depression, chemical in nature, from the life-saving cancer drugs I am on. Some life they are saving I mostly think now. I don't recognize this person I am becoming.

In my BC life (before cancer), I would've already enjoyed two quiet, dark hours to myself... writing and thinking before the rest of the world stirred. Some days I would start the day with writing a thank you note. Other days, a phone call with London -- sounds of shocked colleagues wondering why I was so perky so early and they, 6 hours ahead of me, were still waking up with their second or third cappuccino.

I would hear my neighbor Grace, LAPD, leave for work 5 minutes after she woke up while it was still pitch black outside. She said it brought her comfort to see me working away when she crept to the station, half-asleep. I would wave to my neighbor Ashton as he returned from his morning surf session or headed out to work. I would hear the coffee start to drip set to automatic so I wouldn't have to wake Doug, my live-in boyfriend, before the coffee was ready. I'd tiptoe in to find two dogs and two cats slumbering away with him.

Most days, I'd bring his coffee, strong and black, to lure him out of bed. He shuffled in his slippers, a Christmas gift from my Shih Tzu Zaney, who promptly ate the insoles Christmas night. With his bathrobe thrown around his shoulders, he'd sit down on the couch, pull one of the square coffee tables towards him and start his morning pages, a daily journaling routine. He didn't miss a single day of those morning pages, mostly filled with jibberish but a practice meant to clear his mind for the day. I admired his discipline so much, but probably never told him that.

Every morning, he'd ask "Baby, can you sit down and have a cup of coffee with me?"

He valued any time we could be together. He had this way of saying "togeeether" that always made me chuckle.

I was already up for at least three hours and as Doug described it, I was buzzing around with all the "doing" of the day. I'd sit with him long enough for us do a morning devotional together. Doug led us in prayer morning, noon and night. In some ways, it was the most intimate, loving time in our relationship.

As soon as we were done praying, eating or watching a tv program, I'd be off like a bullet to tackle my to-do list. He had the funniest way of describing how fast I worked and how many things I accomplished in a day. He'd shuffle his feet all around as fast as he could while saying, "doot, doot, doot, doot doot, doot, doot, doot," using high-pitched sounds to indicate varying speeds of my productivity. Maybe you had to be there. It still makes me laugh, but also let me know he appreciated that maniacal drive in me. It feels so good to know someone gets you and loves you anyway.

He always stayed up later than me. 4 am - 7 am was my alone time and his was 9 - midnight. We both worked from home but despite spending all our time together I can honestly say we never grew tired of each other. He was so easy to be around. If American Idol came on, he'd say, "Honey, it's the show that brought us together." He'd say the same thing on Sunday nights when Desperate Housewives came on and I couldn't even stay up late enough to watch it, so I'm still not sure how it brought us together!

Doug was funny like that -- he just said the same things over and over. Some days I would be annoyed and think, "Can't he think of some new material?" These days, I miss the routine. The familiarity. The predictability.

Doug doesn't live here anymore. In fact, Doug and I don't speak anymore. Perhaps the weight of my breast cancer diagnosis proved too much for us. Perhaps we both knew if we tried to be friends, we would never move on. And for reasons far too complicated for a brief column, we had to move on from each other.

As I struggle to reinvent my life in the wake of breast cancer, financial ruin and clinical depression, I realize that what I need most is predictability, routine, familiarity. Old Jokes. Same Punchlines. Structure. Healthy Habits. Daily Devotionals. Prayer Time. I need someone to talk to in the morning even to just say, "Good morning, how are you?"

I didn't know how hard it would be to do all these simple things without him. We built this life together and maintained it through my acute cancer treatment. I eventually felt trapped in the in between of our relationship where we were more than best friends but less than lovers despite our authentic love for one another. We spent more time breaking up than being together because I always held our relationship up against my own expectation of what romantic love was supposed to look like and naturally, we always came up short. That's a personality flaw in me -- I'm always seeking to make things better even when they're just fine the way they are.

I find myself longing for the simple life Doug and I built together, even as I grieve a new relationship that combusted before it had a chance to even take off. What I had in Doug was a partner, someone to face every day with. Someone to support me, pray with me, teach me, learn from me, cook for and with me, watch the dogs while I was travelling for work, make me laugh, go to church with, console me when I was tired and hurt, pick me up from the airport with open arms and a long hug, someone who would have no money to his name but still manage to surprise me with pajamas or flowers or other small tokens of his love for me, someone to validate every one of my ideas with, "Baby's got a vision," in his Southern accent.

We didn't have a loving goodbye. In fact the last time I saw Doug, he was shouting at me to get out of his house. That was months after I shouted at him to get out of my house using choice words that I knew he wouldn't quickly forgive me for.

It's been over a year now since Doug moved out. I was too busy during that time surviving my own circumstances to grieve the relationship. We loved each other as much as we possibly could but we also hurt each other, hurts that ran deep and only surfaced while I navigated falling in love with someone new. That someone new helped me heal in so many ways, but is not ready to pursue a committed relationship with me.

And so I grieve the past I had with one man and the future I could've had with another. All that is left is hope for today. And deep in the recesses of my broken soul, that is quite familiar.