III. Don’t stop believing
One of the many upsides of cancer is that everyone is quick to offer up his or her best compliments. Luckily for me, I’ve got my head on straight and am able to sift through the bullshit your-new-haircut-makes-you-look-like-a-model remarks and get down to the real matter. The most common observation that caught my attention is in regards to my demeanor. I’ve received messages from many expressing awe of both my mindset and attitude. Truth is, my positivity derives from my genuine happiness because despite what lies ahead for me in the future, I’ve always lived everyday as close to the edge as possible. Pedal to the medal and I have the driving tickets to prove it. I didn’t wait around to catch a disease to start living. I spent the week before my diagnosis in Croatia with a best friend catching up and carelessly yachting around from beautiful harbor to harbor. Everything about that place, especially the cappuccino, is my heaven on earth. After my return and due to an agonizingly long customs line to gain entry back into the U.S., I was left reminiscing while nonchalantly flipping through passport pages trying to find a blank page to stamp. I remember thinking to myself that I would not trade my life for anyone’s and that still holds true despite what natural selection has in store for me. Altering any of my life journeys may have spoiled my chance to skydive in the Swiss Alps with a cigar tucked in the jumpsuit ready to smoke upon landing, to road trip around the Emerald Isle trying to slam into as many sheep as possible not once, but four times, to ride a Vespa in both Switzerland and Austria like a scene straight out of Dumb and Dummer, and to wander through Eastern Europe alone making friends from all walks of life and praying that the gypsies didn’t climb through my night train window. I’ve always lived everyday like it’s my last and because of that I am fearless of my future allowing for positivity to flow endlessly.
Long story long, altering cancer out of my life story would have been ideal but I would have missed out on some of my most recent journeys. My friends managed to transform my worst nightmares into hilarious escapades. With help, I opted out of waking up every morning to strands of beautiful blonde hair left on my pillow. I made a preemptive strike to donate my hair and shaved my head the night before my first chemo. I gave the honor of chopping my hair to an animated character with unwarranted anxiety about his own hairline. Terrible mistake. He took that anxiety and channeled it into creating the worst hairstyles known to man, or more appropriately woman. I can now honestly say that I’ve sported every hairstyle that a Harley Davidson riding, leather wearing badass chick would don. He carefully and artistically shaved me my own rat’s tail, and then what we will call ear wings, to finally the ever so classy baldy with bangs ‘do. I’ve never looked so good and he has never been so pleased with his accomplishments.
With my hair out of the way, I was ready for my first chemo journey. I say that I am fearless until someone wants to inject my body with poisonous toxins that might also decide to attack my vital organs. With my tail between my legs, I called my doctor the day before to try to negotiate my way out. If business school taught me anything, it was that everything is negotiable. I tried everything. Maybe the diagnosis is wrong? Maybe there is another treatment? Maybe the biopsy cleared all those pesky cells? Maybe the tumor is really baby spider eggs ready to hatch? I was desperate and she quickly dismantled my hope. She resounded with, “You have cancer and you need this treatment.” I wish I had listened better to that negotiation lecture. Scared out of my mind, I gathered a group of the nearest and dearest and put on my best pearls and heels for strength in battle. What do you mean they didn’t fight world wars in heels? Maybe if they did, it would have been over sooner. We must have seemed ridiculous, me trying out my best Jackie O impersonation and my super heroes blasting theme songs walking down the same hospital corridors that JFK once did himself to deliver Jack. The rest was a blur that I wish I could forget.
With my first week of hell past me, I was ready to enjoy the simplicity of my friends company while journeying down the Potomac to battle cancer. Luckily for me, I know Captain Jack Sparrow himself, or at least someone with a close resemblance, maybe a distant cousin. Although I am pretty good with words, here I am at a loss. This pirate captain organized my entire benefit, from arranging the boat to inviting my friends to collecting donations. This night to lift my spirits was because of him and I will never be able to repay him for his kindness. Imagine that, forever indebted to a pirate. The night was perfect. Friends showed up looking far more ridiculous than me. One even dared to bring his parrot, named Saucy McNasty or something equally awesome. We drank chemo cocktails and danced into a stunning sunset while cruising past all of D.C.’s monuments lit up to ring in the night. Similar to the symbolism of the monuments, I felt freedom, freedom from the horror for a moment. After the cruise, we stormed Georgetown and, true to our pirate nature, ransacked my favorite Georgetown bar, Mr. Smith’s Piano Bar. Along with my pirate mates, the man on the piano started a slow chant of my name to which I was completely caught off guard. My guard was down and my emotions were running wild, which is the only inevitable reaction to an entire bar chanting your name at the top of their lungs out of encouragement. I will take that moment with me to my grave. What I wish to forget was the part where I sang Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing with the piano man. I can’t believe that I still don’t know the words despite the many nights that I spent prancing around my freshman year dorm room belting out that very song. Everything about that night will be forever etched into my heart and I am sending out my many thanks to all my friends who made it possible. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Because of you, we’ve raised $650 thus far for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Donations and good will are in the air and it smells fantastic. A beautiful friend, both inside and out reached out and offered to donate her hair alongside mine to Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths, which partners with American Cancer Society to help women fighting cancer receive free wigs. This was no easy feat for her, as she has the most beautiful long brunette hair, which her boyfriend loves. Thanks to her sacrifice (and her boyfriend’s for that matter) a woman fighting cancer will not have to pay the same price that I did for a ridiculous wig that she will most likely never wear. Do you smell my hostility to these wigs? In my book, bald is not beautiful, but that wig is even worse, and did I mention sweaty? I am just as grossed out as you. In all seriousness, someone will be rocking our gorgeous locks and I’m glad to have such a beautiful friend.
Here’s to my usual terrible abrupt ending with a proverb, fall down seven times, get up eight. And I am already back up and running!
You are honestly incredible. I cannot find the words express how amazing you are….sending lots of love…xo
I don’t know you, but I have come across your story due to Bo, a former student. There is no doubt that you could not be in better hands! His family also cares for and loves my son while he is at Camp Laney. Sending you prayers as you accept this battle. My father is currently battling kidney cancer and my mother is starting chemo for breast cancer. Stay strong, kick butt, and conquer all!!