Thursday, December 17, 2015


Every last one of them was old. 

Every last one of them needed help.

Every last one of them stared at me when I walked in.

My head was down and my hood was up when I walked through the door that day.  My brain was tired and my body ached as I marched one foot in front of the other.  I had been walking through that door regularly for 6 months now.  I was back for a checkup and recognized nearly all of the frailness staring back at me.

I was third in line to check in.  First and second were both in wheelchairs, one in a bathrobe.  When I sat down I had to navigate past a walker and an oxygen tank.  Every person in the waiting room had someone there to assist them.   I had impatience and pity.

The woman next to me started to make the usual cancer conversation.  How is your skin holding up from radiation?  Is your hair growing back yet? My skin peeled I said, and my hair is growing back black.  It’s someone else’s hair on my head, I told her.  She laughed and patted my chubby hand with her spindly one.

She had to have been 80 years old, I thought. She told me she was 71 and she recognized me.  Heck, we all recognized each other, I thought.  We recognized the look of helplessness and exhaustion and fear.  Sometimes we recognized flashes of hope.  And sometimes we recognized the taxing but obligatory face of a positive attitude.  We had stopped counting how many times we had been told to just be positive. 

There wasn’t much positivity in the waiting room that day.  There was a whole lot of struggle going on.  Nobody smiled.   I felt sorry for every last one of them.

The woman next to me asked me what I was looking at.  It’s kind of depressing in here today, I said.  I feel sorry for everyone.  She grinned.  She patted my hand again. Oh, but honey, she said, it’s quite the opposite. 

We all feel sorry for you.

I was stopped cold and turned toward her.  Yes, she said.  You’re the youngest.  You’re always the youngest when you walk in here. We’ve all noticed and we’re glad we didn’t get cancer at your age.  You probably still have kids at home, don’t you honey?

I tried not to cry at the truth.  The tears were in their usual spot, right under the surface, handy if needed.  I looked up and scanned the waiting room again.  This time I saw people.  This time, I saw lives still being lived. This time I saw people I envied.  Most were decades older than me.  They had years of memories in their heads and in their hearts.  They were full of life. I wanted to be just like them someday. 


The nurse called a name.  It was the lady next to me.  She patted my hand again and stood up slowly. Don’t worry honey, she said.  It’s all going to be ok.  We just have to stay positive…right?  And with that she winked at me, turned toward her walker and said hello to the nurse.

Friday, December 4, 2015

I'm Not Done Yet

I’m sorry to tell you this but you have breast cancer.

It’s a rare kind of cancer and it is aggressive. We’re not sure why it grows and we’re not sure how to make it go away. If we do manage to make it go away, it likes to come back again. If it does come back, it’s not good.

Those weren’t the exact words the doctor said to me. But that’s what he meant.

My heart froze.
My brain raced.
My soul shattered.

I remember thinking, “I don’t want to die. I’m not done yet.”

7 months have now passed since my diagnosis and I am often asked if cancer has changed me in any way. I’m not sure. In fact, I’ve written and rewritten this blog 4 different times, trying to discover a meaningful answer to that question. It doesn’t help that I am still a bit angry about the turn my life has taken. I don’t want to consider cancer a blessing. I don’t want to learn any lessons from cancer. I don’t want to become a better person because of cancer. I don’t want to be grateful for one single thing that has resulted from this diagnosis. Cancer is terrifying and sometimes I just want to whine about how unfair it all seems.

Cancer is also complicated. It is not a single disease. It does not have a single cause and it does not have a single cure. There are many different kinds of breast cancer alone, with many different suspected causes and suggested treatments. Each case, including my own, is unique. While I have now finished my initial course of treatment, I am by no means “done” dealing with cancer and its side effects. One way or another, cancer will be a big part of my life for many years to come-maybe forever. I don’t know why I got cancer. I don’t know if the treatments I chose will work. I don’t know if I will live one more year or fifty more years. There are very few certainties in the world of cancer-despite what the internet, well meaning friends and your coworker’s aunt’s cousin who researches avocado extract would have us believe. I have always been a planner with a "to do" list and an agenda to accomplish. Cancer doesn’t care about my list or my agenda. In fact, I go to bed each night with many more questions running through my head than answers. Cancer has taught me to be at peace with that.

Cancer has also driven home the fact that being nice matters. Every day we encounter people in the world who drive us nuts or hurt our feelings or really anger us. There are plenty of people in real life or online that behave in a way we just cannot comprehend. And whether they are there by fate or their own poor choices, there are many people in the world who just seem to get in our emotional or physical way. I’ve been all of these people. I’ve been annoying. I’ve said hurtful things. I haven’t behaved as I was expected to. I’ve been helpless. I’ve been useless. I’ve been a burden.

And people were still nice to me. I can tell you that it was an incredible blessing and has made an enormous difference in my life. Every person on this planet deserves to have that. It sounds simplistic and naive, but I believe without one ounce of doubt that-

Being. Nice. Matters.

All of the time.

Every single day.

For no reason.

No matter what.

Especially when you don’t want to be.

I received a certificate the other day congratulating me on completing a course of radiation. It might as well have said, “Congratulations! You showed up every day!” I’ve certainly had many days where showing up was the only thing I did. And it most definitely was not certificate worthy. I don’t know what the future holds, but it has been 7 months since I looked at my doctor and thought, “I’m not done yet.” I still feel the same way. So for now, I think I’ll just keep showing up.