Thriving in a New Year, as a Survivor

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Dear 2020,

I’m happy to say I’ve broken up with you. I was fully prepared and ready for our relationship to end. You’ve brought me times of joy, coupled with a ton of stress of sadness. You’ve forced me to look for good amidst trauma and heartache, and for that I am stronger and better. Although I had an immense love for you in January, I am now completely over you and ready to move on to something new. 


I started my relationship with 2020 with a heart full of so many desires and expectations of the year ahead. I went in full force, strong and ready for a new chapter in life. In January, I walked into what would be my final chemotherapy and in February I got the amazing news I was cancer free. I enjoyed one amazing trip to Florida with my boys and extended family, which I thought would be the first of many. I soaked up the sun, I swam, I laughed, I ate and drank with no reservations and I thought it was the start of more trips and memories to create. I spent two amazing nights, after my visit to my oncologist which revealed the amazing news, celebrating life and courage, with amazing friends and family. We popped champagne and toasted, we danced and we laughed all night long. I had spent 2019 home, on my couch, creating quieter memories as I healed and was ready to create louder and brighter memories in 2020.  I made new resolutions, created goals and planned trips and events for the upcoming year that I wanted to take. We planned to throw a few wonderful parties to celebrate our two boys, as well as my secret idea to throw my husband a surprise 40th birthday party. The three of them deserved just as many celebrations as I did, for their own strength, courage, and bravery in 2019. I was ready to go back to work with a new sense of appreciation for my career

So here we were ready to push forward with all the good 2020 would bring, or so we thought. In March our world came to a devastating halt. Our country was faced with a pandemic, which would prove itself to be a long and crushing road ahead. Once again I, with many, was forced to stay home. The fear was consuming, the anxiety was heightened and there was nothing we could do to help. I remember thinking how little my life had changed from the year before. I had spent so many countless days exhausted and weak, on my couch, and here I was forced to do the same again. In a way, I felt as though I was reliving life with cancer. I moped, I cried, I got angry and some days were just plain horrible. Conquering cancer was supposed to be the start of all these wonderful moments to follow, but instead, it was the complete opposite. It became the start of a year full of unexpected moments and memories.

We ventured into virtual school, limited quantities of essential items, Zoom meetings, drive-bys to wave hello and place surprises in mailboxes, Etsy homemade packages for friends, facetimes while playing games with family and friends; but then, we rediscovered ourselves and we supported and cheered our heroes, we prayed as a community for our essential workers, we created birthday parades, we hiked and discovered nature, we reclaimed family dinners and game nights and we slowly dug ourselves out of darkness. We, as a community and as a country, became strong and resilient. Our children were our examples, their resilience and ability to enjoy life in those moments gave us strength to push forward. Our mental health was hurt and we suddenly realized the importance of caring for ourselves. Even with all these things we were able to accomplish in 2020, with all the good that came from this pandemic, I’m happy to say goodbye. 

I never thought I would be faced with what I’ve been faced with these past two years. I wasn’t prepared for 2019 and I certainly wasn’t prepared for 2020. Nothing had changed for me in those two years, I thought. As friends shared their sadness with me about not going to work and not having a routine, I felt as if my life was just standing still. I hadn’t had a routine for months and now here I was again with no routine. As others became sad and lonely, I had been lonely for so long. For months friends went to work, while I stayed home. I felt for so long that I had no purpose. I wasn’t learning how to work over Zoom. I wasn’t supporting clients/students and families via teletherapy. I tried to join webinars to learn about teletherapy and followed posts on social media about it just to feel included in something. I wanted desperately to be a part of something and to help someone but I was stuck. 

I slowly found gratitude in 2020. I began logging three things I was grateful for each day, as I heard so much advice to do. I joined a workout app and found time in my days where I could be alone and feel good about myself. Like many, I began to find happiness in the days at home. We hiked, I created amazing dinners, we learned what it meant to be socially distant, and began to see family and friends. The summer bought new adventures, not the ones I imagined, but still amazing memories. I slowly realized life was pretty good. I was happy where I was, I was healthy, we were safe and I had my family. We recreated routines, as simple as they were, and we found comfort in each other. I was not living the life I expected to have as a cancer survivor, but even so, the life I started living in those moments became a good one. I learned that yes I was a survivor, no I wasn’t popping bottles of champagne, but yes I was celebrating life, health, and all the blessings I was given, simply and wonderfully.

Here we are in 2021, once again faced with a new year. To all of you who felt the way I did in 2020, who slowly had to learn how to celebrate life, who went through a difficult time amidst a traumatic year, I applaud you. We’ve learned so much about who we are and how to move forward. We all made decisions on how to proceed and I’ve made a bunch of my own. I’ve decided this year to set no expectations and to make no new resolutions. I’m moving into this new year slowly with a heart full of gratitude for all I have been given. I’m not planning vacations or parties. I’ve learned to let things be, to live day by day, and enjoy the moments we are in. I’m ok with having the time off and have learned how to somewhat manage virtual school. I’m happy with simplicity. I’m making time for myself and understand the importance of supporting my own mental health. I’m healthy and strong and have conquered so many obstacles thus far, I’m sort of ready for anything life will throw at me. I know things are not always easy but I understand how important it is to face it with a smile. We have all learned so much about who we are during these times we’ve been faced with and through that we have gained the strength and bravery to proceed into the new year. So for me, 2021 is a continuation of what I learned in 2020, how to thrive not just survive.

By Matilda Portanova