No one wakes up in the morning and says, today – I’m gonna get cancer. But in a way, that’s how you find out.
When it happens to someone you love, you become the warrior – walking for miles wearing pink ribbons to show your support and camaraderie. You’re hyped like an inner-city-girls-basketball-coach getting all up in the Grim Reaper’s face, waving splayed fingers saying, “yo, cancer – we kicked your butt!”
But when it’s your own body, you’re like the sissy that just discovered a roach on your shoulder screaming, “Get it off me! Get it off me!”
Like many people, I spent a good portion tailoring my lifestyle to what I thought would thwart becoming a cancer victim: a healthy-ish diet, exercising somewhat regularly, and steering clear of those people who can be best described as albatross. But life in a city of 10-minute lunch breaks, subways devoid of elevators and a ratio of five assholes per square foot, you can’t get far enough from the stress that makes you one of those things: a fluke candidate.
Or is there such a thing?
The day the pain started, I knew something was wrong but instead of seeing a doctor, I took to posting encouragement quotes on Pinterest. Denying was equivalent to running – but we all know how that ends. Whether it’s Jury Duty, the I.R.S. or the P.T.A. – inevitably you’ll wind up tied to a chair. Or, in my case, lying helplessly on a stretcher, in a freezing cold room, with a camera up my butt.
For three weeks prior to the camera up my butt, I juggled a slew of self-concluded prognoses: lack of sleep, too much cheese, a garden hose kink in my intestine. Ideas so outrageous that the somber truth was almost simpler to solve.
The doctor said, “It’s cancer,” and that was that. Luckily, there was no pseudo-Italian outburst by my drama-prone husband. There were no tears or sighs or even a hint of resignation because my doctor was good like that. Straight away, he gave us a plan – he gave us….homework.
Have a plan, put priorities in order and most importantly, dream big. That’s what they don’t tell you about cancer. If anything good came out of this so far, it’s clarification. Nothing like excruciating pain and the prospect of death to put life, love and lyrics into perspective.
The life part was easy: all those infinite To-Do lists, shopping lists, agendas, texts, and emails that were tended to so attentively, suddenly had the urgency of any statement by Kanye West. My friends agreed,”Take care of yourself,” they all said, “shit’s never gonna change.”
And with that peace of mind, the day by day process of restructuring life began.
First, my goal was to be home for my son’s 12th birthday. And when that was reached, all the previous “priorities” like money, housekeeping and the cat, became ghosts to my new goal of seeing his 16th birthday – and so on, and so on – until he mentioned that he couldn’t fathom paying taxes or rent and asked if I’d be okay with him living in our basement for his adult years.
I pictured Will Ferrell in Wedding Crashers demanding meatloaf. Mainly because it was one of the many inane movies I watched during my hospital stay. I suppose if there were better movies to watch I might not have been motivated to get the hell out. It was the looming prospect of a Rush Hour movie marathon over the weekend that was incentive enough to get well enough for discharge. The doctor was astounded by my recovery and the RN said, “Wow, you’re like Wonder Woman,” but really, there’s only so much Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan I can take. If I needed to be entertained by two guys wrecking furniture and spewing smart ass remarks, I can go home to an interactive theater in my living room known as “Nerf War Zone.”
Let’s not omit the other perk to being home: elevating one’s blood pressure without a doting nurse to monitor your vital signs. Although my boys do ask me how I’m doing on a regular basis, their reaction is the same whether I say I’m feeling fine or feeling like dried mummy shit. It’s just one of those things you find out about the process – ultimately, you’re on your own. Like finding yourself on a smelly lifeboat with expired bottles of stale water and astronaut ice cream while everybody waves to you from the giant cruise ship you’ve separated from. Well, in my demographics, it’s more like the Staten Island Ferry, which only has life vests – much like the Titanic.
I suppose I should take the strong-woman stance and say something like, when I beat this cancer, I’m gonna finish a triathlon, slay a dragon and give free counseling to puppet addicts…but I’m not that great of a bullshitter. It wouldn’t be long before somebody discovered that I was supplementing my fresh pressed carrot juice with cheese danishes saying, we’re all gonna die anyway.
But that’s the crossroad you reach when life gives you a pink slip. It’s either happiness or time. When the things that make you happy start killing you then you simply give them up. But not everything. Sometimes, it’s okay to savor the little joys, even if they are just a nail in the coffin because each irritating moment amounts to who you struggle to be: a person at peace in letting the days go by.