There Are Shadows


Lifecycle of a Butterfly

Note to self, there will be shadows. The physical wounds are healed, CT scans reveal no signs of metastasis, and the chemo drugs are long out of my system. By all accounts, I’m well, and not only well, but surprisingly vigorous apparently, because according to most I’m vibrating health. 8 hours of sleep each night, loads of water, and a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables tends to have this affect. But there are shadows, an underlying current of heaviness that I wasn’t quite expecting.

It’s impossible and unrealistic to believe you will go through something like this and not be changed. As much as I thought I lost my innocence many, many moons ago, I was wrong. I had a million experiences, placed myself in ridiculous situations, and always played on the edge, pulling back just in time to never face real consequences. Almost every pain I had ever known I inflicted on myself. Who knows, I might have even inflicted this cancer on myself, as rectal cancer is linked to heavy alcohol consumption, a diet high in animal proteins (my past love of bbq and foie gras is no secret), and a diet high in fat, but there’s no way to know that, so I choose not to assign blame. What I do know is that the lightness, perhaps we could call it whimsy, glee, merriment, that I once felt on a mostly daily basis is gone. I held on to mine longer than most, and for that I’m grateful, but I now truly know what the term lost innocence means, and I think I’m mourning.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am delighted that the experience is past, I survived, and my outcomes have been so, so good. I am on my knees appreciative of this, but like a dear friend of mine often says, you can’t unknow what you know. There’s no going back to a time when my body appeared to have countless, mysterious fail-safe mechanisms, my brother-in-law thought my liver was sprinkled with fairy dust, and I bragged about my iron clad constitution. There is no going back to a time when being tired simply meant I might need rest. Although I know it’s irrational as I’m only 6 short weeks past my last surgery, which was piled on top of a year worth of physical assaults meant to preserve my life, but I still feel tired, so I scan my body for signs of cancer. Am I tired or am I fatigued? I got it so fucking wrong last time.

It’s time to return to work, but the idea of going back into physical therapy inspires dread. Please, goddess, please don’t make me be around sick people, right now. I don’t have it in me. The coffers are empty, and, for now, I have so little to offer. Therefore, I’m searching for something different, a way to wake up the light that feels dormant, not gone because I feel that, too, but needs to be aroused, stimulated, and nurtured much the same way I’m trying with full commitment to nudge my physical body back to health. I feel shadows, and at times I think they are so present that I can almost see them. They are not the heavy weight of depression, or the feeling of helplessness in a dark night. My shadows are sheer black, almost imperceptible, but ever present in the periphery. In the daily effort to make something new happen, hoist myself up and start fresh, believing that anything and everything is possible by simply acquiring momentum in a single or multiple directions, I am with my shadows. The shadows tell me that I can’t unknow what I know, there is no certainty in this life I used to live so flippantly, that I’m grieving the harshness of the last year. What I previously only knew in theory, and thought I was comfortable with, I now know in practice. Theory and practice are very different things.

My shadows are not comprised of fear, they are comprised of knowledge. I imagine that these shadows are the seeds of wisdom, and that one day they will fade and integrate, becoming part of me, inherent in my functioning. For now, though, I feel like I woke up one day and was middle aged, and can feel the years everywhere, not that my body feels old or even my mind, but that all of the knowledge I gained over time and with experience suddenly jelled into something tangible and real, and I feel the weight of it. I often find myself wanting to remind my friends that I used to be a helluva good time, a walking disaster, but a whole lot of fun. Probably because life doesn’t feel fun, right now, and to be absolutely truthful, that kind of sucks. I actually struggled with the thought of publishing this post, but then realized that without it I was painting an incomplete portrait of this experience. The physical and mental bodies are intimately, inseparably linked, and trauma to one causes trauma to the other. In being so forthcoming with the physical experience, it seems unfair to gloss over the emotional one. There are no hall passes here, no get out of jail free cards. My emotional body has been wounded, too.

But, you know what they say, life is short but it’s wide, and this too shall pass. A time will come when I can’t see the shadows anymore, and then they will slowly melt away into my consciousness, where we will only meet in dreams or memory. Life will take on it’s glow again, and my cracks won’t feel so wide, but until then I experience this healing for what it is: unsullied, pure, physical and emotional healing. The kind of stuff that makes you human.

I truly thought that I would come out of this final recovery period like a rocket, launching straight up with speed and power, but now I’m beginning to realize it’s more like the butterfly coming out of it’s chrysalis:

When the butterfly first emerges from the chrysalis, its wings are soft and crumpled. The tired butterfly rests, and then slowly unfolds its wings to dry. After a few hours, the butterfly will be ready to fly.  Lifecycle of a Butterfly

If you compare the life span of a butterfly (about 1 year) to that of a human (about 71 years), you get my drift. Right now, my wings are soft and crumpled and I need to rest, and over time I believe my shadows will evolve into something beautiful and kind and compassionate. I believe that my life will be more important to me because I came through a metamorphosis that left permanent scars on my body and psyche, and for now I just need to be at peace until I’m ready to fly.


This should light my way for the time being. Who in the world doesn’t feel at least a little joy looking at this photo?






8 thoughts on “There Are Shadows

  1. Steph Arnold

    Oh Shelby, I have printed this to keep and read when times are tough – or to share when I have another friend who has faced the same demons you have faced. I know from past experience that you will change and recharge and regain some of that love of life – that reckless joy and fun that increasingly distance you from the place you are now. I hope that these moments of happiness start soon – and that when you read “There are Shadows” years down the road that you will recognize that girl (or woman – or whatever) – but will be in a very different place.




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