the word is cancer. its my sign. the crab. if i’m honest about it, i always had mixed feelings about the name of that sign for my birthday in june. for whatever reason the word is electric. a jolt. means something in our culture. something evil and scary and deadly. i get it. i’m sure for so many it has been evil and scary and deadly. lives lost. struggle. often a secret struggle. i have met people who are terrified of themselves. live in fear. hide their diagnosis. i have met people who make a point to say lymphoma, not cancer. my own husband sometimes whispers the word in conversation. to me. still. a few weeks ago.
i have cancer. apparently chronically and forever. but i don’t want to live in fear of myself. hundreds of thousands of people diagnosed each year. probably more. i don’t want to cause a gut wrenching flinch every time i say it. and then the convincing. that the truth is less extreme than the imagined. that i really actually do feel fine. good even. great sometimes. and the nod. the hearing my words. and then the repeat question. but really, how are you?
the other night i went out with two of my best girls. at the beach. sunset. one game of pool. a beautiful bike ride. made a point that i wasn’t going to talk about cancer or chemo. even to people who i hadn’t seen since last summer. would trust the wonder of my amazing wig. and i did it. even when the guy marveled at my new look and messed with my hair. even when joe was baffled by my lack of a dark tan by july. i did it. but it stays on my mind.
from the time i was first diagnosed i decided to be open about it. i had no symptoms back then. except the tumors, i guess. but no pain. no discomfort. no interference with my life. i choose to talk about cancer and chemo because keeping it secret seems scary to me. because the truth is that it isn’t that bad. hard in certain ways. but everything is hard. the feelings i feel in my body not as extreme as the feelings the word conjures. and i really honestly love to wear wigs. and i get to wear different wigs depending on my mood. my outfit. the day. this weekend i wore all 4 at different times and my bald head. its kind of fun to just be a face and a head sometimes. though i get it when people stare.
i choose to talk about it so my kids are not afraid of the word. or less afraid. i believe that by being open about it i can help other people. be open as well. be less afraid.
but my choice is a jolt sometimes. and scary for people. i get it. understand why people make a different choice in their lives. with their story.
and here i am – surrounded by soul. my job a life saver. cardio is life. mind.body.cardio is my lifestyle. an energy. a community. music and rhythm and practicing for the hill of life clipped into a stationary bike. putting it out there and trusting it will come back. here i am – a meditator. a blessed beach bum with a view of the ocean. a city girl who lives in the city. here i am now.
is it too good to be true?
is that why it seems so amazing that i still hula hoop and swim and soulcycle? drive myself around. live my busy life. why it is confusing to my kids that i have cancer but i am ok. i am going through chemo but i seem fine. but then the medications. and the steroids that make me speedy. be on your best behavior your mom has cancer. but she’s fine. or is she? look at melanie on the beach with her red hair. or her bald head. or that long blonde. she seems great. but is she? am i?
i think the truth is as colorful and amazing as all truth. i think too often we try to assign labels without allowing for the shades that make up reality. i know i feel better every day than any day of feeling hung over. i have to be mindful that my body is in recovery mode. white blood cells that get extremely low and have to rebuild. i am being treated with powerful drugs. but my mind and my body are partners and we are working it out. i have to be mindful that the word is still scary to my kids.
not allowing electrifying labels to define us or our impressions is a great thing to think about. and i am doing that lately. noticing. last week i spent an hour with 5 of the victoria’s secret angels. they showed up to spin at soulcycle and raise $ to end cancer. more than $200,000 raised in one ride that i had the honor to be a part of. easy to label those girls. define them by their angel status only. but each one was there. on a bike. smiling. sweating. helping ann and victoria’s secret end cancer. each one making me feel strong standing there with a smooth scalp and the story that this is cancer on soulcycle. the truth is in the moments. not in the imagined.
a great marriage is not filled only with great days together. and a great mom is not one who never gets it wrong. i am not looking for perfection from myself or those around me. but i am not shying away from the tough stuff. i have profound empathy for other people with the cancer label. or any label. it is intense to be the jolt. i want to spend my days in the truth of the moments. or at least looking for that. instead of the instinctual reaction and emotion we assign to things or people. i want to be present. look you in the eye. look myself in the eye. be aware of themes in my behavior. my choices. be here now. breathe in the ocean air when i’m at the ocean.
the beauty of the ocean to me is that it is always moving and shifting and ebbing. a different energy on the shore every day. people who come to fire island ask questions about what the ocean usually does. how it usually looks. but it is different each day. each moment. today began as a yellow flag. the wind picked up. it is red now. i am going to walk to ocean beach with my crew. a continued celebration of my son turning 10 yesterday. we are going to walk on the beach and have an adventure. maybe hit up a surf shop and the ice cream store.
and i still have cancer. and chemo is better than a hang over. and life is good. and it is true. even if i yell at my kids sometimes. i am a proud mama. happy birthday, aiden.