i slipped up today. i was at an early morning appointment with a customer who i have been working with for a long time now. we were discussing when his husband was returning from a long out-of-town trip so that we could schedule some showings in a few weeks. standing on the street as people hurried past us toward the subway, we were filled with a little exhilaration about the possibilities of what we had just seen and the good feeling that we would all together be able to put ‘boots to the ground’ for a push in showings once his husband returned. i turned on my treo and went to my calendar and flipped the date forward two weeks to october 26th – the first date we could all go out together – and said, without thinking: “oh, that’s my anniversary!”. instantly the response came back: “how sweet, congratulations!” and i found myself saying: “oh no, not that anniversary; my cancer anniversary.”
looking into his eyes i realized that he did not know. i always think everyone knows. i thought it was written across my face and my psyche for the past almost-4 years. leaving behind the memory of my reflection sans hair in every store window i passed for a year doesn’t fade quickly. i am only just catching up to processing the acres of time i spent laying in bed willing time to go by: sometimes so that i could get to the next anti-nausea pill or sometimes so i could get to the next pain killer (oh that taxol!) or sometimes so i could get to the end of the day just to put that day behind me. i had to become a new person – not necessarily a better one…just a different one – to be able to talk to people while i was ‘in the process’. the new one looked fragile but tried to not act it. looked sick and tried to find a few funny lines to help shrug off the visuals and the assumptions. moved like a frail old woman and tried to replace fitness with slowly lunking along my brooklyn streets and coming up with potential cancer song-parody lines.
i know, you’d think that almost-4 years is a long time. it is and it isn’t. it’s just enough time to start to come out of the shell-shock of it all. i’d say that happened for me around three years – and remember that 10 months of the 1st year were taken up with surgery then chemotherapy then radiation then a month of essentially sleeping all the time. for the past year i have highs where my heart can’t remember for a few fleeting moments that any of it ever happened and then deep lows where i am reminded that i learned the real lesson and cliche that life truely turns on a dime. it all changes in a moment with no notice. those are moments of deep terror both in anticipation of what might come and to try to come to terms with the precipice on which i found myself standing. the possiblity of losing my family and them losing me.
i looked straight into his eyes. ‘breast cancer. almost 4 years ago. i thought you knew.’ ‘no, i didn’t realize’ came back the reply as his eyes tried to find a focus on me that i saw changed what he had seen up til now. ‘it’s a good thing’, i said. ‘that was 4 years ago.’ i smiled. ‘here i am!’