By Gwen Darien
The Hope Map
By Gwen Darien
Oct. 17 is my wedding day. At 51, I don’t have a hope chest or the new items that younger women sometimes collect to start a household or begin a new life. One thing I do have, however, is a “Hope Map.”
The Hope Map illustration by Laszlo Kubinyi, which accompanies the final installment of Damaris Christensen’s series on hope and faith, is a wonderful visual metaphor for many cancer survivors. The paths and detours depicted in Kubinyi’s illustration are an evocative description of the journey many of us take.
As many of CR ’s readers know, I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma at age 35. While I may be a middle-aged (gulp) bride, I feel more like a younger woman, and it seems as if I’m embarking on a new phase of my life that many of my peers began in their 30s. For me, like so many others who have had a diagnosis of cancer, successful treatment of my disease was only the first step across some rough terrain that has led me to the place I am today. Sixteen years ago, I would never have predicted the obstacles, twists and unexpected turns on this road. While some parts of the journey, such as regaining physical strength and stamina, were short, others, like the ability to deal with the unknown and uncertainty of the future, were much longer than I would have imagined—and sometimes still continue today.
It still catches me off-guard when, seemingly out of nowhere, a fear of recurrence or late effects of treatment takes hold—and along with it, a deep fear of losing control. I thought I had learned long ago to deal with the anxiety and fear that a life-threatening diagnosis can provoke. Likewise, all these years later, the raw emotion that accompanies the knowledge that cancer took away my option to have children continues to catch me up short in many situations. I may be aware of my feelings, but that isn’t always enough to deal with them.
Although the path to personal happiness may have taken much longer for me than I would have anticipated, and challenges still remain, I am thankful today that so many of my aspirations have been belatedly fulfilled. I’ve found a deep, lasting and loving relationship with my future husband, Jonathan. While I may not have had children of my own, I adore my two future stepchildren, Isabelle and Stephen. I am thrilled to be a part of Jonathan’s extended family and so grateful to my own family for welcoming them into ours.
It’s a complicated rhythm, this dance down the road to recovery. But then I remember that at the edge of the challenging landscape in the Hope Map is a glowing circle of hope, represented by the sun. And with my new life now unfolding before me, I feel warmed by its glow.
(photo credit: Danny Wilcox Frazier)