I just experienced what I hope will be my last chemotherapy treatment for a long, long time. (Forever would be even better.) Some cancers creep up slowly; others pounce. Mine swept in like a hungry tiger while I was looking the other way, bemused by commonplace things like thinning hair, loss of memory and just generally growing older.
Chemo resolved all those complaints without so much as an apology. It took ALL my hair, left me in a brain fog that made me drop everything I pick up, and it gave me the sudden desire to live to become a little old lady! Funny how that works.
But what has been most shocking was finding that a life threatening illness can be the catalyst for more blessings than you can ever imagine. One of the most serendipitous moments I’ve experienced was last weekend when my community celebrated its annual Relay for Life. People of all ages came out to honor their loved ones who have died of cancer and to show support for those who are surviving and fighting the disease.
During the opening “walk of survivors,” I stumbled around the track in awe that perfect strangers would come out on a rainy blustery Friday evening to cheer on a lot of people they may not even know. I had participated before, but never with such a personal stake in the value of the event which annually raises millions of dollars to fight cancer. My compliments and appreciation to my friends, Brian and Diane, and all the volunteers and workers from the American Cancer Society who spent months recruiting teams and planning a flawless event.
At dawn today, I sat out on my back porch and breathed in the combined fragrance of maturing mint and rosemary while making a list of all the good things that have occurred as a direct result of illness. I won’t go into all the minor details - like losing unwanted pounds without a diet, getting a great head of hair (which I hang on the bedpost over night), and falling in love with those heretofore dreaded green vegetables. The latter is thanks to Margaret Ann Wood, a restaurateur and longtime friend, who introduced me to Goya seasonings which can make the lowly canned green bean taste like the nectar of the Gods.
The Big C also gave me a bizarre sense of humor. I still chuckle at the look on that truck driver’s face when I was pumping gas during high winds which blew my wig right off my head and carried it across the parking lot. He stared in dismay, probably confused by the smiley face a friend had drawn with magic marker on the BACK of my head. I also got a kick out of the long black “Cher” wig my son sent me as a joke. One morning I went door to door pretending to be an encyclopedia salesperson and not one neighbor recognized me. Come on people, who sells encyclopedias these days?
The greatest gift has been the deeper relationships formed with my family and friends who I often took for granted; the absolutely religious experience of feeling good again after being under the weather; learning not to judge others who may be suffering from their own set of stressors; and the realization that material things will never provide lasting fulfillment. That lesson was way overdue, but I’m a slow learner and like they say, it takes what it takes.
Someone once said that the hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings, but when we do, they seem to multiply. Oh, and here’s something else to look forward to. I heard mosquitoes will take one bite out of a chemo patient and fly off to wash their mouths out with soap, spitting all the way. Ah, Ha!
Emily Jones is a retired journalist who edits a blog site for bouncing baby boomers who are entering retirement. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in November, 2012. Check out her blog at deludeddiva.com.