I Survived Cancer, and Then I Needed to Remember How to Live – The Atlantic

By daniellenierenberg

Ibram X. Kendi: What I learned from cancer

This is where I find myself, at the threshold between an old familiar state and an unknown future. Cancer no longer lives in my blood, but it lives on in other ways, dominating my identity, my relationships, my work, and my thoughts. Im done with chemo but I still have my port, which my doctors are waiting to remove until Im further out of the woods. Im left with the question of how to repatriate myself to the kingdom of the well, and whether I ever fully can. No treatment protocols or discharge instructions can guide this part of my trajectory. The way forward is going to have to be my own.

My first foray into this new selfhood is learning how to drive. As I get more comfortable behind the wheel, a hazy idea begins to crystallize into a grand plan. I need to leave the familiar, to trust that I can navigate the world alone. I need to become my own caregiver. It took me a while to say I was a cancer patient. Its time for me to figure out who I am now. By the time I finally pass my drivers test, the next step is obvious: Im going to embark on a solo cross-country road trip.

Over the next few weeks, I pack all of my belongings into boxes, put the boxes into storage, and sublet my apartment. I cant afford to buy my own car but my friend Gideon generously offers the use of his old Subaru. Between the extra income from renting out my apartment and the $4,000 in my savings account, I should be able to make do. I plan to camp and crash on couches as often as possible, staying in only the occasional motel room. I scour Craigslist for secondhand camping gear and buy a portable propane gas stove, a subzero sleeping bag, a foam bedroll, and a tent. I pack all this, along with a crate of books, a first-aid kit, a camera, and a sack of kibble for my scruffy terrier mutt, Oscar, into the car. Before leaving, I go in for a last checkup with my oncologist.

My road trip will take me 15,000 miles across 33 states. It will last 100 days, the maximum amount of time my medical team has agreed to until my next follow-up appointment. As I turn the keys in the ignition and drive away from New York City, I realize that this is a rite of passage that I hope will bridge the distance between no longer and not yet.

Either my GPS is a liar or I am an erratic driver, but I always seem to take nearly twice as long as it predicts to get to where Im going. Take a right turn inrecalculating its robotic voice says condescendingly when I miss yet another exit. My next destination, Columbus, Ohio, will entail my longest drive yet. The GPS predicts that, if I follow its barrage of orders exactly as told, I will arrive in nine hours and 21 minutes. Unlikely.

Since hitting the road, Im on no ones clock but my own.

Two weeks earlier, when I first left home, I was so tense that I regularly had to remind myself to breathe. Each minute behind the wheel presented new and overwhelming scenarios: Do I have the right of way? What does a blinking red light mean? Was that an Egyptian hieroglyph on the traffic sign? Lane changes and merging onto the freeway had proved especially stressfulan existential guessing game of will I live or will I not. But with each day, I am feeling more confident, and it has been at least 72 hours since another driver has honked at me in anger or bewilderment.

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I Survived Cancer, and Then I Needed to Remember How to Live - The Atlantic

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