I went to get a flu shot at Wegman’s in October, (they are the best, truly), and as the pharmacist was going through my health history in a prequel to the next event, the big scary needle (not), she asked about cancer. “Yes, in 2004 I was diagnosed with a malignancy and had a left nephrectomy.”
“Really?” She replied? “Well, congratulations on being a survivor.”
A survivor? I don’t really consider myself a survivor in the true sense of the word. As we remember October as breast cancer awareness month, I think of all the women, especially my mother, Olga who braved hair loss, nausea, near death days, fear of the unknown, fear of dying, days and nights in the hell that only a lonely hospital room can bring, trepidation of what your demise as a mother will do to your family, fear of not having enough control to save yourself, and all the lucid and non lucid dreams this diagnosis can bring.
After a clean five years, my mother’s stubborn tumor resurrected itself and that was the ultimate demise. Her battle ended shortly after her second diagnosis as soon as my first son, Devin was born. But, that’s a post within itself. She was not a life time survivor. And even though technically I am a survivor, I don’t feel I deserve the accolade in comparison to what real survivors endure. Unless of course, the “surviving” isn’t just physical…it’s a mental fuck that prepares you for the rest of your life.
But, I will tell you where I am a survivor, I survived fear. A cancer diagnosis right to your face is the most unbelievable life-altering event one can have. The details are in my book of that fateful day, but over and over like a bad episode of the Brady Bunch (“Mom always said don’t play ball in the house”), it repeats and repeats in my ear every day of my life. Just one excerpt from that night replayed in my brain brings me right back there…in the flesh, to that very moment in the Valley ER in my white go-go boots.
I actually fainted, I thought that was in the movies, or when Wilma found out she was pregnant with Pebbles on the Flintstones and Fred passed out. No, it’s real. An out of body experience you hope you wake up from like waking up from a dream because you have to pee, and it’s over. It wasn’t over. That will never be over.
When my father passed away from Lymphoma in 2003, I knew cancer was our wrath…an uninvited force…you think hell hath no fury as a woman scorned…try cancer. Its scars are indelible, whether you survived a torturous physical war, a minor one, or the voyeur to a loved one’s struggle, there is no pain, no wound, no loss of human control that rivets the emotions. You writhe in the agony of helplessness…waiting for every test result, gauging the look on the doctor’s face when he walks in the room to deliver news…any news. It’s an all consuming divet in the road of life that you cannot trash or forget or even minimize. It’s ravage boggles the most intelligent, the most gifted and prodigy-like scientists, the most devout, and eats away at the hearts and emotions and sanity of the little people on the outside that are effected.
But, when the pharmacist at Wegman’s said I was a survivor, I thought of those who went before me, those who waited weeks, days, hours for hope in a hospital, or news of their lives being cut short. Those who withstood treatment until they were almost dead, those who knew they would see the Lord shortly, and continued treatment. Those who would do anything to go home and yell at their kids because they didn’t clean a pan in the sink, throw out water bottles or flush the toilet. Suddenly the mundane are gifts.
I was lucky, through God’s plan, that I would not suffer the physical treatments, only the surgery and knowledge that I was living on one kidney for the rest of my life, and the horror and mind fuck every year I go for a scan…the nightmare of that night in January 2004 when all I said is “What do I do to survive this for my family…I’ll do anything.”
God has been good. And cancer was a gift in its ugliest form. It gave me the perspective to hold nothing in my day to day for granted. I look at the most hum drum of days and tasks, especially the Groundhog moments of this pandemic and realize they are gifts, and that my children being in my home forcefully lol, is transient, fleeting and a dream. Embrace it. Even the moldy towels left in the washer. The gazillion water bottles reproducing around the house, the plethora of books and papers growing each day from virtual learning soil.
I have the gift of strength at this moment in my still early fifties to run, jump and swim the marathon of emotion God has put in front of me the last few months…to endure the emotion of life, to cry and sob and scream into a pillow like a toddler, and know that there is strength in my veins, my blood and my heart to tug when I feel like I can’t breathe.
And to know that my choice to have eight children was acknowledgement from God that I can handle it, and that they are my beautiful most coveted salvation.
So, cancer, you are an ugly, relentless bitch…like many women I know personally. But, through your bitchiness, I outsmarted you with emotion, compassion, altruism, love, and empathy. You have fortified me with a strength that has nothing to do with your physical warfare, but rather the psychological, the emotional, the deranged fear that accompanies you wherever you go. And, I thank you for that, oddly enough to take me and my family down life’s foggy and crooked path.