“My Voice” by Lisa Boylan (revisited)

Lisa Boylan - 'Survivor'

For two months, I was lost.

I had prepared myself for the immediate recovery after a major surgery, but did not take it seriously when told I needed to plan for the long-term. Cancer is scary. Surgery is brutal. Recovery is all-over-the-place.

I planned to be out-of-commission for about six weeks (although my doctor had said to prepare for three to four months) and during my immediate recovery, I received the best care from my family. I also received advice from a friend of my aunt’s who said that there is a lot of emotional junk that comes along with the recovery. Bah! I was doing great, healing amazingly, finances were on-track, my children had weathered our separation and done well … so what did this woman know? I listened to her with a polite smile and nodded my head at all the right moments. Apparently, she knew a lot.

Months one and two – after the radical surgical excision of a Desmoid tumor in the upper-right quadrant of my abdomen were, for lack of a better word, a breeze. My lovely mom had my boys and was toting them around town to parks daily, my sweet aunt had a membership at a country club that she so generously shared with me, all my meals were taken care of and I could sleep whenever I wanted (that, in itself, is bliss for a mom). I was also on massive pain killers and found those to be quite fun (so fun, that I had to make a conscious effort to throw them out when they were no longer needed). So, what now?


Ugh …. I was so depressed. Months three and four were really rough. Although I tried not to show it to my friends and family, I’m sure they all got a clue.  During that time, I didn’t quite know what was going on with me. Wasn’t I making an effort to meet other survivor’s? Didn’t I volunteer at a Desmoid research benefit? Wasn’t that me on the radio talking about cancer? Wasn’t my oldest going to school in clean clothes? Didn’t I get a new job just seven weeks outside of surgery? But, nothing could shake my sadness. The sorrow I was feeling wasn’t the weepy, cry-my-eyes out kind (I wish it had been a bit), it was something so deep that I could only feel it and let it wash through me.

About two months into my recovery, I had written ‘my voice’ down for “Voices of Survivors” (an amazing non-profit group that gives people a way to express their story and define what ‘survivorship’ means to them) and in that written word, I had said this: “One thing I would like to say is that I don’t know if I have fully understood the magnitude of what has happened. I don’t think I have experienced the full range of emotions that are deep within me. I use humor as a means of coping and while it definitely helps, it may also hinder me in some ways. I think I’m afraid of going too deep and allowing that vulnerability to surface. I am scared of the unknown.” Dang, did I set myself up for an emotional roller coaster, or what??

I was back home in Monterey – tending to my house, taking care of my family and also getting a new job. Nothing major, but just something that could bring in a little income and also get me out of the house. I remember getting ready for my first day and how it literally took me hours to prepare … I was just moving so slowly and my body hurt. I managed to work the entire day (in ridiculously high, but cute, heels) before coming home and feeling as though my body had been crushed by a steam roller. How was I possibly going to make it through one day of work, when it would take me three days to recover from it? I gave it a go one more time before realizing that I just couldn’t do it. That’s when depression started to wind its way deeper into my subconscious. My brain seemed ready to get out there, but my body was having none of it … this dealt a blow to my esteem. I’m young(ish), fit (kinda) and prepared to work. To admit that I was unable to work was a very, very hard thing for me to do. I had felt as though I wasn’t pulling my weight around my household, something that was a such a clobber to my psyche. I was embarrassed and confused. I was also afraid that maybe I was just making up excuses. Thankfully, my husband was genuinely supportive during this time and never pressured me into keeping the job (although we needed the money). So, I quit and managed to get a stony silence from my employers, along with not getting paid for the days I worked.

Now, I was home with my boys and husband (cat, guinea pigs and fish, too) and I could not for the life of me get up off the couch. Yes, I took the neighborhood kids to school along with my eldest, but after that, I slept for as long as my youngest napped. I wasn’t showering as often, wasn’t interested in putting on make-up or getting out of my pajamas. All, I wanted to do was sleep and play word games on Facebook and drink beer after the boys were in bed. So, that’s what I did. For two months. Seriously, two long months.

It wasn’t until after those months had passed that I fully realized how deep my depression had become. I don’t think I had a specific ‘awakening’ –  it was more like coming out of a dense fog. Even in the fog, we have a destination and my journey was to delve deeper into the reality of cancer and what it means to have survived it.

As of January 6, 2010, I received my ‘all clear’ from the surgeon. The cancer is still gone, my wound is healing well and my doctor thinks I’m remarkable. I’m slowly getting energy back and have actually had a few bursts of it which have been fun for my family. I’m mulling over idea’s about a cancer-support group on base (we live on a military base), ways that I can get involved in supporting fellow cancer mom’s in the area and I have also registered for school. Yep, going for my BA in Journalism.

Little-by-little, I’m seeing the spark of ‘me’ again. My aunt’s friend was right when she said that there would be complex emotional things that I would need to deal with … my depression had to run its course – wind its way through my body and slowly come out leaving me a much more thankful and insightful person.

Being a survivor is a journey. It’s not something that has an absolute definition. But, for me, I plan on taking my survivorship with me wherever I go and gaining any breadth of knowledge, hope and understanding from it that I can. ……and that makes me smile.