Survivor Transitions and Acute Myelogenous Leukemia
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By Ibby Caputo

The Adventure Continues

A 20-something cancer survivor writes a new life story

By Ibby Caputo


During cancer treatment, you deal with the immediate: the disease and the side effects of treatment. Death is too close to allow yourself to dream about the future. If you survive, the future comes, as it has for me.

I am embarking (once again) on a career as a journalist. You wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at me that I’m a recent survivor of acute myelogenous leukemia. Many people have said to me, “It must feel good to return to normal life.” And though I smile and agree, I recognize that there is no going back.

Ibby Caputo stands by guards at President Obama's inauguration ceremony.The most unexpected part of transitioning to life after cancer has been the grieving process that accompanies survivorship. Before my diagnosis, I was reporting for a local radio station on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. I was dating a man who enthralled me, wondering how I could keep our summer romance going. After my diagnosis, he stuck with me for a month, and then disappeared. I haven’t heard from him since. How wonderful it would be if there were a magical road that could lead me back to that whimsical time just two years ago.

Instead, I am totally preoccupied by the aftermath of what I have been through—even as I attempt to hide it from others. I don’t want anyone to know how tired and vulnerable I feel, how much my body aches, that my feet swell, that I often feel like I have grit in my eyes. I’m like a foreigner in my salvaged body, struggling to figure out how to make it run smoothly.

In my new daily life, I am constantly reminded of the stark contrasts between “now” and “then.” I was shocked by how stressful it was to live in my own apartment and meet my own basic needs after having been cared for by others for a year and a half. Mundane tasks like shopping, cooking, doing laundry and getting around the city can be challenging and exhausting, although I try not to let on. I don’t want people to think I’m weak.

Although I’m only 28, I sometimes joke and say, “I don’t have the energy I had in my 20s.” (I certainly feel decades older.) I usually say this around 10 p.m., when I’m with friends and want to go home early. I’m not dating anyone. I would like to be, but it’s hard to find someone with whom I truly connect. Flirting can only continue for so long before life stories get shared. My story often awes or inspires, but it’s a lot to deal with, even for me.

Despite such challenges, I am not unhappy in my new life. Far from it. I have a sense of gratitude and wonder and an uncanny feeling that my life is a miracle. It’s a feeling that doesn’t dissipate, even in my more difficult moments. And then there’s the chuckle. Like bubbles rising to the surface of the seriousness in my mind, I hear an all-knowing, subtle laughter in my head sometimes—an undercurrent to my thoughts. It reminds me that this life is absurd, beautiful and difficult. The adventure goes on and on.

 

(photo credit: Stephen A. Caputo Sr.)