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The Night the Lights Went Out

How a Power Outage Gave Me a New Outlook on Life after Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

by Kate Cassorla

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Eleven months after my non-Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis, I awoke in the middle of the night to a power outage. Assuming that the whole neighborhood was without electricity, I set the alarm on my cell phone and went back to sleep. When the alarm rang, I proceeded to my eldest daughter’s room to wake her up for school. Oddly, her bedroom had power, as did all my neighbors’ homes.

I went to the basement and turned the circuit breakers off and on. Nothing. Testing the lights and outlets, I discovered that half of my house had no power. I called the electric company in a panic. I envisioned needing to hire an electrician to rewire my entire house.

The electric company wasted no time in arriving. Immediately, the repairman detected that a main cable that runs underground from the pole to my house was not functioning. “It may require us to dig up your driveway and yard to solve the problem,” he said. “That’s a different crew, but for now I can use an extension cable to give you electricity. It could take a month until the problem gets a permanent fix.” Another service truck arrived.

I was one living, incredibly boring flat-line of a person.
I was numb to life.

Together, two men worked to provide me with a large cord that ran from the telephone pole, across my yard, to my house, temporarily supplying us with electricity. One of them said, “If we installed this bad line initially, then we will fix it. If the previous owner had a private electrician do the job, then you will be responsible for it.” Of course, the latter had to be true.

In the midst of chaos from my homeowner overload, I suddenly felt high-strung. I was on the edge of exploding. Then I realized this was a feeling I had not experienced in nearly a year. Cancer had put me in such an artificially calmed state that I had not allowed myself to react to smaller issues. It was as if I was on a longlasting sedative. I rarely cried or got angry, even when the end of life repeatedly stared me in the face. I was one living, incredibly boring flat-line of a person in a state of constant worry. I lacked enthusiasm for just about everything. I was numb to life.

In the strangest way, I was thankful that I suddenly felt the adrenaline pumping through me. It made me want to shout, “Look out world here I come! My sabbatical from living is over.”

Cancer brings far too many losses. Loss of hair. Loss of confidence. Loss of security. Loss of relationships. Loss of appetite. Loss of spirit. Loss of strength. Loss of a positive self-image. Loss of social life. Loss of attention span. Loss of employment. Loss of qualifying for private health insurance. Loss of feeling in control. Loss of electricity. Okay, so I can’t blame my electrical problems on cancer.

On the positive side, I am grateful for the many new relationships that have emerged during this difficult period of my life. The relatives and new and old friends who continue to support a cancer survivor throughout the ordeal are truly the purest and strongest individuals in our midst. Many people have guided me and loved me unconditionally, regardless of the “sedated” moods that I have experienced on my lymphoma rollercoaster ride.

I realize I will never be the same person I used to be, but it took a power outage for my feisty, go-getter personality to begin to emerge once again. Maybe one day in the near future I will be able to look into the mirror and actually recognize myself. Until that day comes, I can plan how to be a better person. Soon, I may finally be familiar to those who knew me before malignancy dictated my life.

If a PET scan can tell my doctors that I am cancer free, then I cannot allow the disease to erode my psychological health any longer. Even though the emotional challenges have been far more difficult than any treatment regimen, cancer has taken a hold on me long enough. I have been fighting for good health, but it is time for me to strive for happiness and fulfillment (even if I have to do that by candlelight).

My house may not have reliable electricity, but I do have the power to control my emotions. While an electrical professional works to revamp my wiring, I will work toward reinventing myself as a survivor.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Kate Cassorla is a widowed mother of three, a non-Hodgkin lymphoma survivor, and an allogeneic stem cell transplant recipient who lives in St. Louis, MO.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, November/December 2008.