The Funny Moments of Life With Breast Cancer

PJ Hamel Health Guide

    PJ Hamel, on the big screen, at the 2004 James Beard Foundation Awards



    A friend recently said to me, “Why don’t you ever write about anything funny in your blog? You’ve got a sense of humor. There must be SOMETHING funny about cancer!” As it happens…

    May 10, 2004. Three years to the day after my cancer diagnosis. But cancer is the last thing on my mind this day. As I slide to the middle of the crowded car’s back seat, my mind screams ROAD TRIP! Thelma and Louise times 2 1/2, five of us going to New York City.


    Our book, “The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion,” has been nominated for a James Beard Foundation award: the foodies’ Academy Awards. And tonight is the ceremony; they’ll be rolling out the red carpet at the Times Square Marriott Marquis.

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    Susan stomps on the accelerator, and we roar down Interstate 91, bound for Manhattan. Once in the city, she reverts to her self-described Noo Yawk persona—bouncing over curbs, backing up at high speed, screaming through a turn right in front of the red light. We finally run aground at West 57th St., shoulder our bags, and find our hotel.

    One hour till the party–the biggest party we’ve ever been invited to, a party the likes of which you just don’t find in Vermont. It’s time to get dressed. Three women in a room the size of a small kitchen. Nylons, blouses, scarves, dresses, everything draped everywhere. My roommates are in their underwear; I enjoy seeing real cleavage, fascinated by what I no longer have… and never did. I take out my seldom-worn “good clothes”—sheer, sleeveless blouse, jacket, harem pants. Start to put the blouse on… oh hell, I forgot my bra. Since surgery, I never wear one; too painful and what the heck, I don’t need it. Whatever; no one will be looking at me, anyway.

    An hour later: the Marriott Marquis. The New York crowd is sequined, high-slit gowns, strapless, backless, spike heels, legs up to there. Black ties, starched shirts, shoes polished to a high gleam. And here we are, the five hicks from the sticks. We don’t belong here, but hey, a day off from work and a free meal—what fun!

    Two hours later, the awards drone on. I have to go to the bathroom; should I slip out now, or would that be rude? Suddenly, feet aching, mind adrift, I hear the announcer say, “And the winner is The King Arthur…” And all hell breaks loose.


    Toni, sitting beside me, grabs my arm in a death grip, leaving marks I swear are still there. She hisses into my ear above the roar of the crowd, “This is unbelievable!” The spotlight finds me and BLAM, I’m in it. As I walk up on stage, I’m scrutinized by 1,600 pairs of foodie eyes. I glance up and there I am, MUCH bigger than life on a TV screen the size of my house.


    Jacques Pepin is waiting to shake my hand. The CNN cameras roll, microphones are shoved in my face. I have to speak to the crowd, but a sudden dose of chemo-brain shoves every single thought out of my head, except one: I’m wearing a sheer blouse.


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    And I’m not wearing a bra.


    Don’t worry, you never saw a sheer blouse disappear beneath a suddenly-buttoned jacket so quickly in your life…

Published On: November 01, 2007