I felt a wave of optimism yesterday as I left my apartment to go grocery shopping—mostly about the weather, which seemed to have shifted from a ceiling of gray, ominous clouds to blue skies dotted with puffy clouds. I put on my new lion espadrilles that aren’t supposed to get wet and set out, noticing along the way the old Poland Springs plastic water bottle half-full of urine I’d seen a few weeks ago. I wasn’t sure if this was a good sign or not.

The urine bottle, oddly, made me think about how much I’d miss New York if I left. Everyone seems to be leaving or talking about leaving these days, in light of how expensive it’s getting to live here. I looked up an apartment I saw for sale in my neighborhood, just for fun, and it cost a million dollars. I’m not using that as an exaggeration, like when I talk about how much a pint of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream costs here. This apartment really cost a million dollars. For that price, area urine should be discarded in Voss bottles.

This is one of the only places I feel really comfortable. I enjoy the balance here. For every bottle of urine, there’s something beautiful and unexpected. For every time there’s the smell of rotting garbage or urine (unbottled, I presume), there’s a linden or chocolate cake breeze. And vice-versa. I find it oddly comforting.

Halfway to the store, I felt several drops of rain and looked up to see a lone gray cloud above, making a few half-hearted attempts to rain only on me, as if I were an unlucky comic strip character. It seemed like a physical embodiment of my recent post-cancer depression—sun and beauty all around, and a small, plaguing sadness trying to descend upon me.

If it started to really rain, I thought about ducking into a store that sold shoes suitable for rain if I came across one. I wasn’t too upset about the threat of a small shower—I’d figure out what to do about my shoes.

In fact, a good percentage of my clothing is bought out of necessity—rain jackets, hoodies, comfortable shoes. I consider weather for which I’m inappropriately dressed a cosmic sign to buy necessities I’m loathe to purchase. I couldn’t control the weather, so I’d make do.

I usually think of myself as pretty easy-going, not a control freak. But recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about control, and lack thereof.

Tuesday, amid the flurry of news feed posts about Robin Williams’ suicide (which also got me thinking about control, but so much has been said on this subject, I’m just going to let the man rest in peace), another story caught my eye. New York Magazine posted a link to a story called “Avoiding the Breast Cancer ‘Warrior’ Trap” by Peter Bach, the doctor who months ago wrote an honest, poignant piece about losing his wife to cancer. It was teased with, “Let’s get real: Cancer doesn’t really make you stronger.”

In the column, Bach talks about being at a Gilda’s Club luncheon, where Good Morning America anchor Amy Robach spoke about her recent breast cancer screening and treatment. In his opinion, she oversimplified two complicated, controversial issues: the mammogram effectiveness debate and her decision to have a double mastectomy. I’m going to leave those topics to the doctor and the breast cancer community.

What struck me was that Bach was troubled by Robach’s assertion: “I kicked cancer’s ass.” Labeling people who end up in remission from cancer as warriors, Bach argues, negates those who die from the disease.

It’s not the first time this has been brought up. In Pink Ribbons, Inc., a documentary about the corporatizing of breast cancer, the filmmakers talk to women with Stage IV breast cancer about how the “survivor” label implies that those who don’t make it didn’t fight hard enough.

I’m not sure how I personally feel about the survivor label. You have definitely gone through something and survived. I feel as if I’m in the middle as someone with refractory Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I survived…for now.

I think the more nuanced point that Bach makes is that there’s an erroneous implication that surviving cancer is based on how hard you fight, that you can somehow control the outcome more than you can.

I would agree with him there. People fight very hard and still lose. In the case of relapsed and refractory Hodgkin’s lymphoma, you emerge from battle only to discover you didn’t win the war and have more fights ahead.

Cancer is extremely unfair. In that aspect, I think the war/battle analogy is accurate. Do we say that those who don’t survive are any less brave?

If there’s a battle comparison to be made, a friend who read my last blog about post-cancer depression said that since I’d been fighting cancer for so long, my depression was like the emptiness of missing battle.

It’s true. Instead of a proud returning war hero, I feel more like the soldier in The Hurt Locker, disconnected with a day-to-day routine, unsure of how to live in the world.

A few phone calls to the department of labor turned me into a quivering mess of emotion and despair, though I suppose dealing with bureaucracy has always turned me into a sad Kafka-esque figure, pained by the absurdity of human existence. Even a glance at a tax form or a health insurance explanation of benefits quickly sends me to the depths of existential despair.

I feel as if in the last year and a half, I’ve lost control over too many things. I swing from struggling for control to recoiling from taking it back. I don’t roll as easily with the punches.

I think that the idea of being a “cancer warrior” is a label that’s meant to be helpful and empowering, but it also can add unnecessary pressure when you’ve been shown just how vulnerable you can be. I think people are looking for control, when so often in the case of cancer, there’s frighteningly little of it. Your own body has tried to kill you. Is the illusion of control helpful or harmful?

Everyone deals with things differently. I’m sure some people feel invincible after cancer, and I don’t begrudge them. I only envy them. I thought maybe once I’d faced cancer, I would feel braver, but if anything, I’ve felt more unsure of myself lately. I’ve been struggling to re-acquaint myself with living in a world I’ve always had trouble fitting into to begin with.

My boyfriend asked why, when I complained about having so much to do, I prioritized working out. I do want to get stronger and do activities to maintain a healthy heart and lungs that put up with a lot of potentially damaging treatment. But the underlying reason is there: The need for some control, even if it’s misguided. It’s been a way of trying to re-assert some control over my traitorous body, a way to say, “I’m still in charge of some things around here.”

I’m not sure if I agree that cancer doesn’t make you emotionally and mentally stronger in some ways. Though now I feel weakened, I hope I’ll show some strength in the long run.

I’m not sure that I feel proud to have survived cancer (for now). Just relieved and still shaken.

In this life, we have such little control over some things, like cancer or the weather, and also a terrifying—often daunting—amount over how we react to the things we can’t control. As I flail and falter, I hope to find my balance once again.

Photo note: The wise cat knows not to take my espadrilles in the rain and wears them only indoors.

People often ask me how I’m feeling, following up with, “You look great!” My hair has returned and has grown in just enough to the point where it looks like it could be an intentional short cut. A few weeks ago, a punk rock girl passing by me as I waited for the bus told me that she loved my hair.

My eyebrows and eyelashes are back. My mustache also has returned. My minimal beauty routine is back to involving mostly hair removal.

“Great!” is my usual response to the query about how I’m feeling. Physically, I’m almost back to normal. I still have a few joint aches left from losing muscle quickly during my hospital stay. I have a few surgery scars along my neck and a tiny bump from the chest catheter, but otherwise, I feel no worse for the wear.

Truthfully, though, I’ve been battling some post-cancer depression. It’s been nearly two weeks since my doctor told me that it was “all good news,” despite the remaining spot lighting up on my PET scan. I feel as if I should be out jumping for joy and painting the town red.

But I feel as if I have that lead weight of depression banging around and sinking in the middle of my chest. I wish it would land on the troublesome pancreas spot and blot it out, and then all my issues would be solved. It’s not a crippling depression or that I’m incapable of being happy. The weight is sometimes buoyed by good feelings and events, yet the gnawing feeling keeps coming back. Sometimes, I don’t feel like getting out of bed.

It’s frustrating, because I’ve spent so much time—more than a year and a half—longing for things to return to “normal.” But I don’t know where that place is anymore. It’s as if, by trying to return to some sense of normalcy too quickly, I have the emotional equivalent of the bends.

It’s somewhat comforting that this is normal, and that cancer patients often put some of the scariest feelings away while in treatment, only to have it come back later. It’s odd, because I felt as if I was dealing with my emotions through treatment, but I feel as if some things are finally hitting me now.

I’ve also found it helpful to talk to people. A lot of people have been through depression at least once. Like panic disorder, people just don’t tend to talk about it much. Depression often makes no sense from the outside. It often seems to strike when things seem to be going well. Those who have dealt with depression know that it’s not a simple matter of cheering up.

So even though I know this is normal, it’s still hard not to beat myself up a bit for feeling bad. (Also a normal thing, if not constructive.) I’m (probably) cancer-free! I have an amazing life. What do I have to be sad about? It’s difficult not to apply the Bob Newhart “Stop It” therapy to yourself. (Hyperbole and a Half has an excellent description of what it’s like to beat yourself up about feeling depressed and about slowly emerging from it.)

I’ve also had a little bout of my old companion, anxiety. A few weeks ago, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something bad was going to happen. I’ve been trying to deal with the old fear of fear, a vicious cycle I’d like to not get caught up in again.

I’ve been trying to stay busy and push away the depression and anxiety. A few weeks ago, we went to brunch with a friend and didn’t return home until the evening. I kept trying to find new things to do so I wouldn’t have to be alone and still long enough for the lingering gloom cloud to descend upon me.

When thinking about returning to normal life, I feel a little overwhelmed. Sometimes small decisions leave me incapacitated. Not that I’ve ever been very capable of making decisions. Every choice I make is full of deliberation. It drives my boyfriend crazy.

Last weekend, four people who have known me for a long time happened to be in town, and that helped me shake off a little bit of my depression. It was good to see and talk to people who knew me long before all of this happened.

What struck me was that after surviving something, there’s this pressure. Whether you think you’ve been spared for some reason or have to live life to the fullest, there’s a new pressure, a self-imposed stress. My own demon has been a feeling that I have to get back to normal, work-wise, which is impossible. Last year, I lost my full-time job while undergoing chemotherapy and, before my hospital stay, I was taking on as much freelance work as possible to prepare for not working. So I feel as if I should always be working now, but that’s not normal.

Taking some time off when friends were in town were therapeutic. I’m also taking a weeklong vacation soon. It’s going to take a while to restore balance to my life.

I have been feeling a little bit better, though the melancholy found its way into my dreams. The other night, I had a dream that I went to a high school reunion, but it happened really fast and I didn’t feel as if I had time to talk to anyone. In the dream, while everyone happily chatted and went on their merry ways, I was overcome with melancholy.

I know dreams don’t always mean something. I had a dream a month ago or so in which I was taking an online quiz where the multiple choice question was based on the Andrew W.K. song and my options were: “What kind of partier are you? A) It’s time to party, B) We will party hard, C) Party hard, party hard, party hard.” But I felt as if this recent dream was trying to tell me something. I’ve had a hard time dealing with the passage of time lately. I think I’m belatedly dealing with the issue of mortality, something I pushed away during treatment.

Eventually, I know I’ll emerge from this. In the meantime, I’m going to keep my chin up and remember that this is normal and it will pass.

Photo note: I realize I said it’s difficult to cheer up, but in case you do need cheering up, here is a photo of my cat wearing tiger shoes.