I am moving away. To an exotic and enchanting land known to most as “Ohio.” I got a job, friends! Like a real person’s job! A really good job that will allow me to utilize not just one, but BOTH of my graduate degrees. It a legitimate job with an office (with an actual door!) and benefits. And, get this, I went furniture shopping the other day and I was looking at things that don’t need to be assembled. They come ALREADY assembled, people! How grown up is that?!
I have tried to write this post multiple times—to try and sum up what this last year has meant to me. It is, however, extremely difficult to put into words. I think it is on the verge of impossible to adequately explain how much I truly cherish the people that have been a part of this experience. The most cherished thing I have been shown, over the last twelve months, is that people inexplicably appear in your life at just the right moment. This realization has presented itself in the form of multiple people I have become very close to here in Balty, and it has been truly remarkable to witness how those relationships have impacted and shaped the trajectory of my life.
I compare my life now and my life one year ago and the differences far outweigh the similarities. It is not just the physical differences. Yes, I wake up every morning and look in the mirror and still find it shocking to see someone resembling my old self staring back at me. There were times when I thought that day would never come. I will never forget the moment I first noticed the “old Abby” reappear in the mirror. My hair was a little longer and framed my face again, my eyelashes had fully grown back, and I just looked back at her in the mirror with tears streaming down my face and whispered to myself, I knew I would see you again! That is definitely something I value, but the changes go so much deeper than that.
I truly believe I have become who I was always destined to be and I discovered that girl this past year living here in Baltimore. I have to say goodbye to this city and the friends I have come to absolutely LOVE and ADORE. That is, and already has been, very difficult for me. I was packing up my house last night and had to stop and just take a second because the terrible feeling in my stomach was too much. (It was like that break-up feeling but not as intense because I can still call my Baltimore friends and invite them to my parties and stuff.) While I was bent over a box full of books, I had to remind myself that what is waiting for me in Ohio will simply be a new era of my life where I will start a career and hopefully obtain some equally awesome friends (it’s gonna be tough though). My life continues to be one adventure after the next, but if you know me you know my motto is “Embrace It!” so, that is just what I am doing. Wheels are rolling…I’m heading back to the Buckeye State (and just in time for us to win a National Championship. As always, Beat Michigan).
Last August, I arrived in Baltimore just a shell of the old me. I had literally just finished treatment a few weeks prior and I had not had the opportunity to adequately process what had just happened to me. Once you are diagnosed, things happen so quickly that you do not have time to remotely grasp what is happening. Yes, the severity of the situation comes in waves that literally knock the wind right out of you, but you have to constantly get back up, push those feelings aside, and FIGHT LIKE HELL TO SURVIVE. Then, treatment ends and you are sent back into the world you weren’t able to participate in the previous year. So, when I finished treatment and moved to Baltimore shortly after, I had not processed anything. I was scared to death, sad about so many things cancer had done to my life, and weak both physically and mentally. I was watching my 20s fade away feeling approximately 80 years old, but having to pick up the pieces of what my life had been before cancer struck.
During the next twelve months I felt as though I had the learning curve of a child, simply absorbing everything around me. It was all new to me because of the perspective I had gained during my fight. I am so incredibly blessed to be alive and that reality has changed the way I approach every last thing. So, I have learned a lot from this town. I have learned a lot from Baltimore:
I have learned, with the assistance of my wonderful survivor-friends, to live with fear—not just exist, but truly live with the fear of the unknown. With continual hard work over the last year, I have embraced the blessing of not knowing what lies ahead. I used to see that kind of uncertainty as something to fear, and now I consider it a gift. I don’t want to know what the future brings because that would take away all of its magic.
I have learned that you can choose to make any year (or day, we can start with just one day) the best year (day) of your life. For me, the last year of my life was easily the best year of my life following the absolute worst. My friends make fun of me because I literally exclaim at some point every single day, “This is the BEST DAY EVER!!” But, I say that because I truly feel as though it is. I get to experience something new. What an incredible gift. And, if you find yourself not thinking that today is the best day ever, perhaps you need to re-evaluate your approach to life. Every day should top the previous day because, quite simply, you made it to the next one. You are 24 hours wiser and you get to experience the world and all of its splendor one more time.
I have learned that there are always second chances, they just present themselves differently than you may have originally envisioned. You need to keep your heart and eyes open for when they do appear. If something or someone speaks to your heart in a new way, grab hold of that person or feeling and do not let go.
I have learned that the moment you feel completely lost and broken is the start of a new beginning—don’t run from it. Yes, it is scary and heartbreaking and brings you to your knees, but it is also when you become the most susceptible to change and are able to become the new, stronger, best version of yourself.
I have learned that sometimes there is a reason things aren’t working out just as you had hoped. I have learned not to push too hard, because perhaps there is a good reason things just won’t budge.
I have learned these things because of the experiences and the times I have shared with my wonderful and cherished friends I have made here in Baltimore. So, as I told my friend the other day, I arrived here a shell of my former self and Baltimore, in many ways, brought me back to life. It may sound cheesy, but it is just so incredibly true.
Reviewing the tapes of my life during that year of treatment starting with the moment my surgeon asked me if I was “OK” before my mastectomy and then clamped the mask over my face sending me off to sleep where he would remove my breasts, to me ripping fistfuls of my hair off my head during chemo, to spending days on the bathroom floor begging my mom to make it all stop, to accumulating burns and fatigue from the radiation—I was left completely shattered, empty, and I felt utterly alone. It is the people I met this past year while I was trying to pick up the remaining pieces that helped me breathe new air into my life and into my soul. I do not know what lies ahead, but I do know one thing: I will never forget what this city has done for me and I will never forget the people that make this city such a great one. So, it is my last night here, Baltimore, and I think we owe it to each other to make it the best night ever.