As I gear up for The Breast Cancer 3 Day series starting in Chicago in less than 2 weeks, I find myself dealing with all the practical issues of my role. Once again, I'm taking on the role of National Spokeschick with The 3 Day. Once again I'll be criss-crossing the nation this summer and fall stopping in 14 great cities as thousands upon thousands will be walking miles and miles to hopefully, finally raise the dollar - the single solitary dollar - that will fund the research that will put an end to this disease. As I get ready to walk a bunch, talk a bunch, cry a bunch and laugh like an idiot in 14 cities, as I plan and prepare for my responsibilities, as I make yet another list of things to pack for the first event, I find myself getting a little, oh I don't know ... technical about the whole thing.
That's the thing about working for a cause. You are still working. And anytime you engage in "work" of any sort, it can become routine. Granted, with this "work" the chances of it being routine are much, much less. I mean, when you are eating dinner looking over a field with thousands of pink tents, walking alongside men in coconut bras and dancing on stage with teams of people in feathered boas and pjs ... well, "common-place" is not really how you'd describe it.
Still, there are aspects of the job that are just a job. And especially now, in the weeks prior to being ON EVENT, in the weeks without the amazing stories and powerful messages and touching displays of courage and stamina, I can almost lose sight of how important this cause is.
When I first was diagnosed with my own cancer, I spent a lot of time in the oncologist office waiting room. Eventually, I started taking my computer with me to treatments and appointments. That gave us posts like this and this. But long before I even realized I would be posting at all about my cancer, I simply sat in that room with a notebook and pen. Originally, I took the notebook with me so I could take notes about what the doctor said. However, just like college, most often these notes were pretty useless an incomplete. I mean they weren't quite as bad as college ... they didn't have my first name paired with the last name of my boyfriend written 100 times in cursive but more often than not I would end up with a page that had the date at the top, a single question scribbled on the page and nothing else save some doodles and a grocery list squeezed in the margin. So the notebook was pretty useless in the treatment room. The notebook however did come in handy in the waiting room. Writing is a good way to pass the time in the waiting room. It is certainly better than reading those freaking cancer pamphlets. I would often just sit and jot down notes about how I was feeling, what I was thinking or use the time as a short writing exercise. A way to keep my writing skills sharp. I would create little challenges and then try to meet them. I would make myself both drill sergeant and cadet.
5 minutes on the color teal - GO!
Tell a story about beets - GO!
How many things in nature can you think of that are orange? GO!
(there are a lot of them, by the way)
I never thought much about those impromptu exercises. They've just laid there unread and uninspired in my old notebook. In fact, I had completely forgotten about them until today when I reached for a current notebook from my desk drawer and pulled out an old one instead. As I was flipping through it trying to find a blank sheet of paper I came across what I assume started out as an exercise during one of my many vigils in the waiting room. It was written just a few days before my first treatment. When my spirits were still pretty high and my humor was intact. I was still in that stage of pre-treatment when I thought the key was to attack this thing head on and partner with my body in getting rid of it and cheerio good fellow we’ll have this thing licked in no time at all!
When I was a kid my dad used to think it was hilarious to sneak into the bathroom while I took a shower and toss a glass full of ice water on top of my head. It was not hilarious. It was shocking, upsetting and painful. This moment, written about in my notebook, was a modern-day version of that ice water tumbling over the shower curtain. I remember the moment. I remember the feeling. One minute I was warm and cozy. The next, I was confused, angry and shivering. I fought it. Tried to stay in the warm. Tried to stay in the practical and technical, in the healthy and whole. But the moment was too strong, and the reality ... too real.
July 7, 2006
This room is filled with old people. Even the young people are old people. There is an young old guy with a hat and a dark mustache in the corner. The guy is in the corner, not the mustache. He's falling asleep. I guess he's waiting for someone or maybe he's just found a nice place to take an overdue nap or it could be he feels like I do - exhausted - and doesn't have a notebook of graph paper and a mechanical pencil to keep him from drooling on his chin and doing head bobs. Wow. He's a big head bobber! Whoooosh forward .... Recover. Wooooosh back .... Recover. A quiet rocker, a aged headbanger without the ipod and the heavy beat he slowly bobs. Now less drastic. Bob. Bob. Bob. Maybe he's dreaming of Whitesnake or ancient Deep Purple although his sox's hat makes me think more Bullet Boys or Warrant. I'm not sure why.
But what the room lack in youth they make up for in attitude. Hellos, conversations, latch hook. It's not a bad place really. For what it is. Which is a bad placed indeed.
Funny thing is all the posters around the room show young people. Young people smiling. Young people laughing. A 30 something lady with a sundress and a fun hat looking at the camera like isn't this just he funnest thing ever? If it weren't for the word CANCER on the poster, you'd think this darling was pitching ice cream or toothpaste. The really sexy kind of toothpaste. There is no way that lady on the poster has cancer. If she did, we'd all want it. Give me her cancer! Damn! That broad looks great!
The headbanger is awake. He woke up when the door opened. The door opened when his wife - I guess that's his wife - came out of the back. She has test results in her hand. Those are test results. Her head is covered with a bandana. And there are precious few hairs dangling from the back. Those are the saddest hairs I've ever seen. The two of them are tucked in that corner. I don't think I would have really noticed them at all except he just exhaled. It wasn't loud. I was just a sound, a breath, an expulsion of air but I recognize it. I know that sound. It's defeat.
I can hear them - headbanger and wife. They are murmuring. The two of them are talking. We are all, the rest of us, not looking - we are all trying to give them a tiny bit of privacy there in the corner. We have all become intent, engrossed in what we are doing. I'm writing. The lady next to me is working a puzzle. The couple on my right is reading a copy of good housekeeping - both of them reading the same copy. And the couple next to them are studying a paper calendar. We all do business while their world comes apart.
The murmurs have stopped.
They are getting up to go.
I can't look up.
"Beverly," the nurse says softly from the window, "we'll call you next week, okay? Have a good weekend."
The last line is said with compassion. I finally look up.
The headbanger is crying.
I hate this fucking place.
We have come so far in the treatment of cancer.
Sometimes we need to be reminded treatment isn't enough.