The Second Stage of survivorship is what I call "Acknowledging Your Mortality." Really, it should just be called "Acknowledging Mortality," because the face is, no one gets out of here alive.
It's news to most people, that they're mortal. We act like Superman, staring dumbfounded at our own blood. I bleed? Yep, that's right - you bleed. You don't have any insurance against tragedy, against disappointment or unmet expectations or plane crashes. Pile up all the statistics you want - you can still be that one in a million person, and there's nothing you can do about it, because guess what? That's life.
Reckoning with life's unpredictability and uncontrollability is the second stage of survivorship because once you've acknowledged and accepted the loss of something you didn't think you could lose, you have to face the face that you can lose other things. When my mother died, and my father died twelve years later, I thought, "What, has God got a list? (and even worse, if He does, who's next on it?)"
Surviving means acknowledging that you almost died - and that's pretty heavy stuff, kids! Whether your life "flashes before your eyes" or not, you might think differently once it sinks in that this little parentheses we have here is just that - a window - and that there are no do-overs. Before cancer, I was Superman, but the moment my oncologist told me that not only did I have cancer, but that I had to do everything I could to keep it from coming back, I became Clark Kent, sitting in that diner, staring blankly at the blood on my hand. I can bleed?
The strangest part is, when you've survived something, you walk around feeling like Clark Kent in a world of Supermen: people start treating you like you're somehow more vulnerable than they are to the slings and arrows of life. You might want to scream, "You know, you CAN BLEED TOO!" Don't bother. They won't believe you. Another thing that happens is, you might start avoiding things you were never afraid of before, because you no longer harbor this delusion that you're Superman. It could be minor things - like hydrogenated oils or high fructose corn syrup. It might be major things - like, moving too far away from your oncologist or getting on an airplane. Men of Steel don't have to fear injury, but Clark Kent? Clark can bleed. And since you've already bled once, why tempt fate?
What's important to remember, as you reckon with this stage of survivorship is, you're not made of steel, but you're not made of glass either. Life is a terminal disease, yes, but remind yourself: you're not dead yet (cue Monty Python joke)! It's easy to walk around like the other shoe is going to drop, preparing for a future where cancer might come back, where another baby might be miscarried, where someone else can break your heart, but why waste what little life you have left on this earth preparing for disaster to strike again? Disaster may strike; it may not. Chances are, you probably won't see it coming, even if it does. I spent so much time post-treatment asking myself, "What happens if my cancer comes back?" - until a nurse asked me, "What if it doesn't?" I realized that I really was living like I was dying - but that I should be living like I was alive. There's a difference between knowing your life is going to end someday, and living like that end is imminent. So strive for that balance: acknowledge your mortality, but remember: you're still alive.