Tracey came over. She’s a friend with stage 4 lung cancer. It’s easy to see that she’s suffered more than I have. She has a painful skin rash which is a side effect from her targeted therapy, her chemo pill, which is called Tarceva. She wore a long sleeve shirt and floppy hat. She moved from the driveway to my kitchen in a slightly masculine way. She is a personal trainer and she oozes determination. She’s so tough that she’s the type that would have walked out of a gulag. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich comes to mind. The way she’s leveraged her cancer to her advantage.
I had a simple lunch ready for us both. I offered her some Reed’s Ginger Ale.
“Never tried it.”
“Great for nausea,” I said. It felt good to offer her something that might help. You see, I’m slightly intimidated by Tracey, and embarrassed by it at the same time, because she’s smarter than me, and she knows her cancer better than I know mine, but she’s all ears, really. When we spoke at the same time she said,
“I can’t believe how much you know about your cancer,” I said.
“I read all my reports,” she said. She has this wry smile that comes out when talking. It’s delayed as if she were humored by the arbitrariness of life’s turns, rather than bitter. Her eyes are sea glass green that change in the light. Her face is expressive. Her body language puts me at ease.
“I didn’t go to the last cancer support group because one woman (a care giver) spoke endlessly about the calamity of it all,” I said, “she went on and on about her husband’s sickness, their relationship problems, and family addictions.” Tracey listened to me without judgment.
“That’s too bad because at the last meeting we talked about how we got our cancer,” she said, “it was real good.” Clearly, I missed out on something special.
“So how did you get yours?” I said.
She bit her sandwich and took a drink looking at the contents in the bottle.
“I’m not certain, but some say that you have cancer 7 to 10 years before symptoms show.”
“Jesus,” I said, “I heard that the lungs are associated with grief …it makes me wonder about mine.” I wanted to add something to the conversation.
“I told you that,” She said. We’ve met maybe a couple of times but we’re friends bonded by our shared journey. Our situations are different. Her economic situation is tougher. Her living situation more challenging, our mutations slightly different, but we’re both walking down the same road when all is said and done.
We paused and ate. I was left thinking about grief, remembering my father died 7 years ago. Could this possibly be a reason? His passing hit me hard and stayed with me a long time. It was short-sighted not to admit how much his death affected me. Call it stubbornness, or stoicism, but I didn’t ask for help. I didn’t know how.
“What did you do today?” I asked.
“I came from Feldenkrais.”
“Awareness through motion,” she said, “retraining the smaller muscles because the bigger ones tend to dominate.” She demonstrated by turning around and showing the muscle groups involved. It sounded strange, but I watched with a new openness. Cancer has allowed me the freedom to consider alternative notions. About everything. It has allowed me the freedom to heal in ways not imagined.
Later that day I went to Quest for a blood draw. I got into my car to leave and in the rear view mirror I saw the caregiver who complained so much at the support group. The one that irritated me. She pulled into the driveway and her husband and kid got out. I revisited her story. Cancer eating away at her husband. Addiction eating away at her son. I could almost hear her husky voice, a smoker’s voice, but this time I felt empathy for her as her husband walked away without even looking back. I decided to make contact rather than duck for cover.
I got out and waved.
She tucked her jeans back into her uggs. She lifted her head and stared at me. She probably thought, where do I know him?
After a moment of pause. After recognition.
She smiled and waved back.