Getting Through Christmas With Cancer
OK, you all know the scene right? Cocktail party, the week before Christmas. Bunch of casually dressed up Boomers – the guys in their Santa ties, maybe a jacket and jeans; the women in black and red: Talbot’s, or J. Jill, or maybe up here in New England, L.L. Bean.
Downstairs, in the “rec room,” the host pours draft beer and wine, Coke and ginger ale. Our friend Richie’s famous homemade beer cheese shares table space with veggies and dip, fruit and crackers, nuts and baked brie topped with pecans and maple syrup (New England, remember?) It’s good to meet old friends, folks you seldom see in the daily slog from home to work to home.
And there are new faces, too; the 30-something kids of the host and hostess, kids you remember being in middle school not so long ago. They come with their spouses, and bring young friends. They’re all in flowering careers, their upward trajectory not yet slowed by office battles fought and lost, age, or ennui. It’s good to talk with these “kids,” to feel again the energy and excitement of those heady days before the piled-on responsibilities that come with parenthood, mounting bills, and downsized paychecks.
I catch sight of one of my cancer buddies across the room. She’s wearing a string of tiny Christmas lights around her neck; they blink as she makes her way through the crowd. She steps up to the bar, asks for anything non-alcoholic, accepts a root beer with a big smile. I smile, too; I know she’d probably like to be enjoying a glass of Chardonnay or Merlot along with everyone else, but she knows the drill: alcohol increases your risk of breast cancer. She’s already had a recurrence; best not push her luck. She’s fine drinking root beer; I’m happy to see her choice. She’s doing what all of us try to do: increase our odds. Play the cancer odds, and win.
I edge up beside her, give her a hug. “Hey, Holly. How are you?” We both know that this isn’t a rhetorical question. I want to know how she’s feeling; I haven’t seen her in awhile, and want to be sure she’s not heading down the long road again. She says she’s fine, except for man, that Femara! We compare notes on the aromatase inhibitors we’re both taking: the aching joints, the incipient osteoporosis, the raised cholesterol levels, all side effects of these drugs that keep cancer at bay. Her husband, a doctor himself, listens kindly to our back-and-forth for awhile. Then he puts his arms around our shoulders, draws us close, and says, “Hey, you’re still here. That’s what’s important. Remember that.” And once again, I get the virtual dope slap upside the head. Yeah, he’s right. Never mind whining about what hurts. We’re still here. How about celebrating that?
As 2007 draws to a close, let’s think back not on the inevitable pain and fear and sadness of cancer, but on the moments of kindness and laughter it’s brought us. Did one of your friends die this year? Think of the sunny afternoon you sat under a café umbrella enjoying tall glasses of iced mocha, rather than the last time you saw her, slipping from life in a hospital bed. Let's take time to celebrate. Why not? After all–we're still here.