Ten years ago this month, I walked out the door of the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary, Alberta, my ‘good-to-go’ papers in hand and a newly minted batch of peach fuzz on my head. I remember it being a typical fall day in Alberta – bright, crisp, and full of promise.
It took me a while to embrace the promise of that day because cancer remained in my psychological self long after eradication from my physical one. Eventually I did, taking my second chance and running with it – all the way to Mexico. Some people thought it was kind of crazy, and some days my own untarnished optimism was pummelled into submission by the ever present Fear of the Unknown. However, after being released from treatment and falling right back into the status quo with frightening ease, I came to realize something. If my life was going to have more meaning for me, I had to become responsible for making it so. For me, that meant creating fundamental changes which would challenge me in new ways, creatively and emotionally. Finding fulfilment beyond my own normal meant following through on an oft imagined dream to live in another culture, where living with less didn’t have to mean living a less rewarding life.
Cancer was not a gift, but it was an opportunity to look at things differently. Moving to Mexico to embrace a culture as foreign to me as the language, became the catalyst for the change I’d hoped for. After five years, I’m still adjusting to this new life, but for the most part, the struggle is with an adversary more daunting than cancer – myself.
“Sorry”, Melva said, “that shouldn’t have hurt, but you’ve got the tiniest veins in your hands I’ve ever seen, and they’re not cooperating.”
I don’t know what Melva is talking about because I have my mother’s hands – large, sturdy and highly cooperative. My grandmother had English teacher hands – delicate, pale, and somewhat secretive. My hands are doing battle for me now, fighting back in a way I can’t, making it difficult for Melva to do her job. I’m not angry with Melva, I don’t have the energy. But I’m annoyed she seems so flippant, like she’s getting ready to jumpstart a car battery instead of a human body. My human body. Melva seems an okay person, but she’d be better suited to nursing animals than people. A dog on chemo wouldn’t care if Melva said, “The first time I rolled a chemotherapy bag down the hall to a patient, there was a leak in the bag and damned if it didn’t eat a trail right through the linoleum.”
Tossing the third ruined needle into the hazardous waste bin and snapping her gloves off with frightening efficiency, Melva strides off in search of a small vein expert, and I find myself alone. Melva has been a distraction. Her absence leaves me nothing to focus on except my surroundings, something I’ve been avoiding. I scan ‘the others’ with slightly downcast eyes and realize just how much I’ve been trying to make myself, and them, invisible. They reflect what I choose not to see – fear, weakness, resignation – and I prefer not to look in that particular mirror. I’d rather look at my hands; they haven’t lost their self-esteem. I squeeze them in tight fists, willing the veins to cooperate.
This story came to mind as I was writing. I send it out to all who have endured the Melva’s of the world, to those who have thrived and those who are still waging war with their bodies. And to my remaining Hope Sisters—Leslie, Sherry and Susan.
Ten years!! That deserves drinking a whole fucking bottle of champagne to celebrate! I’ll bring one over!
You said it sister! Let’s do it soon! I hope we’ll be there for each other for a long time to come xo
Oh, Alison – just beautiful and inspiring. I so admire your bravery in putting yourself “out there” in your writing.
That’s one of the personal challenges I’ve tried to overcome…to wear my heart on my sleeve a little more, and be more ‘open’. I’m pretty glad to have met you Pam!
I am so proud of you and the way you grab positive energy and run withit!!! Way to go girl! You are a beauty inside and out!!!! Love you, Mary
It’s a mutual fan club Mary!! Miss you both xo
Hey sweet girl. Ten years have flown by – even so I often think of you and how happy I am to still have you in my life. We all have some kind of postscript or prescript in our lives – we just don’t always know it.
We have been in each others lives now for what, 40 years? So amazing, and one of the many things I’m grateful for xo
Damn, but you’re such a good writer, Al. Thanks for sharing your life.
Glad you’re still in my life Don…and thanks for the encouragement!
It takes courage to jump out of the status quo, let’s all keep moving towards the mystery of the unknown, that’s where the real juice seems to be.
That means a lot, coming from a fearless leaper such as yourself! Besos y abrazos
Alison, this is both moving and beautiful! Lucky for us that you chose the Yucatan for your new adventure! So glad you did! xoxoxoK
Holy moly. I can’t believe it has been 10 years. What a warrior woman you are Al but your strength is in your willingness to lay down the armour and expose your vulnerability. Look out world. She may be pint-sized but packs a wallop of wisdom. True grit.
I couldn’t believe it myself! It’s an important milestone for sure so I guess I’ll keep doing what I’m doing – let me passions lead me and never drink bad wine. Miss you sister! Truly madly deeply xxo
Qué hermoso relato, Alison. I have learned so much from your writings. Thank you so much for sharing yourself to us through it.
Me siento muy honrado por su comentario Cinthya! Gracias por leer mis palabras!! xo