I realize you can’t really equate having cancer with having a baby (although they both cause you to end up sleepless)… but stick with me before you dismiss this as just a bad analogy.
Breast cancer survivors compare stories like mothers compare stories of childbirth. Instead of centimeters dilated, we talk centimeters of tumors. If you have a rough delivery, you can’t help feeling a tiny bit jealous of women who pop out the baby with no drugs and go home from the hospital in their non-maternity jeans. If you’re a woman with advanced breast cancer facing months of torturous treatment, you feel the same way about women who have a tiny microscopic tumor and a little surgery and a 99% prognosis of survival.
Cancer isn’t one size fits all.
Not to deny that cancer is scary no matter what. Not to deny that all women with breast cancer are at risk. And not that you wish anyone ill; you just don’t want to be the one at the other end of the spectrum. Only someone has to be there— or it isn’t a spectrum.
When you draw the short straw, it helps to know someone who’s drawn a straw that’s even shorter—who’s here to tell about it.
My friend Laurie is convinced that’s what I’m meant to do…..to be here as living inspiration that I survived. And today is one of those times I think maybe Laurie is right.
Today I was going to meet Christine, a young mom beginning her cancer journey, who lives nearby and is the friend of a friend. We’ve talked and emailed but were both eager to meet in person. I was a couple minutes late for our lunch because I wanted to bring this.
These are from the collection of scarves I used to cover my baldness during chemo. As I took them out I could almost forget their original purpose. The blast of color brightened the day—as color always does. Color in any shape, form or combination inspires me— and helps me see the world in a more beautiful way.
I didn’t realize how appropriate that would be at lunch.
Like me, Christine drew a shorter straw. We’re amazed at how many aspects of our stories are exactly the same. I also feel the differences. I never let V or my kids see me when I was completely bald—- and I almost gasp when Christine casually pulls off her own scarf at the restaurant and tries on one of mine.
Two months into cancer, Christine is bald—and she is beautiful. I don’t know if I’m reacting to her features or the sweetness of her smile or the serenity of her soul.
Waiting when I get home is an email from another sorority sister with a shorter straw. Also a young mother, about Christine’s age, Angela is a soldier stationed overseas, a friend of a friend. She’s ahead of Christine by a year—a year filled with everything Christine is facing right now. Ironic that part of Angela’s email expressed something Christine and I discussed; something I urge all cancer patients: trust your own gut. With Angela’s gracious permission, I’m posting part of her email:
I have tried to be my own best advocate throughout this ordeal and I take great pride in being unafraid to express my concerns and desires to my medical team…after all, what’s the worst thing that can happen? I am willing to do all that I can to ensure the worst does not happen and if it does, it will not be because I was afraid to ask questions or challenge my medical team. … Part of the battle is an emotional/mental battle and I know that there will “battles” that I will not always win BUT I WILL WIN THE WAR.
Two women warriors—-across thousands of miles, across the table at lunch—I take in their strength, I take in their spirit. And I think Laurie is wrong. I’m not here to inspire them; they’re meant to inspire me.