This past Sunday morning I drove to church and parked in my usual spot. I walked down the grassy slope, entered the building through the east door and walked around to the elevator. After stopping to talk to a friend – standing during the whole conversation, I’ll have you know – I got on the elevator and rode to the second floor, got off and walked to my Sunday school classroom.
To my amazement, when I sat down I wasn’t out of breath. I could greet people and carry on conversations. I could participate in the class discussion. Then when class was over, I began my walk back to the elevator, talking with people on the way. I had to sit down once to finish a conversation with some friends, but eventually I made my way to the auditorium and found my pew.
Again, I wasn’t out of breath.
I didn’t stand to sing, but I could sing – debatable to some of you, I know. I could almost cross my legs. And my jeans weren’t as tight this week. I could breathe a little easier.
And when church was over, I talked to more people. I even stood to listen to fishing stories from two of the cutest little boys on the planet. Then I walked all the way across the auditorium, out the door, and back up the grassy slope to my parked car.
That may not seem like a big deal to most people. It wasn’t to me either, until I couldn’t do it.
I took all of those things for granted before this summer. But after not being able to walk and stand because of the fluid retention from chemo, I was overcome with emotion yesterday when I could walk and stand again.
Because I know people who would give anything to be able to do what I did yesterday. To be able to sleep in their own beds, shower on their own, put on real clothes and drive their cars to church. To spend time with people they love.
Yesterday makes facing another surgery tomorrow a little more bearable. My surgeon wants to go back in to insure the margins on the tumor bed are clear, that she got all of the surrounding tissue, so that I have the best possible chance of the cancer not returning. So while I’m not thrilled about having to go through all of that again, I’m well aware of how easy this is in comparison to other possibilities.
From the time I was diagnosed back in the early Spring, I haven’t struggled with the fear of my cancer being life-threatening. I really haven’t. Sometimes I have to remind myself, “Sally, you have cancer.” I’ve been well aware of the side-effects of chemo, and yes, that in itself makes you cognizant of the fact that this must be one more powerful disease if it takes medicine that makes you feel this awful to knock it out.
And there was that moment driving home from the doctor’s office when I first learned it was cancer. When for the first time in my life I realized I had an illness that if I did absolutely nothing, would kill me. So yeah, I am aware. But there was no fear of it being life-threatening, really, because we had a tried regimen of treatment that’s been found to be effective – life-saving – in an overwhelming number of cases. And so I honestly haven’t worried about that.
What I have worried about, what troubles me every day, is why my friends didn’t get the same kind of cancer that I have. Cancer that was treatable, manageable. With different treatment.
And a different outcome.
I don’t know why they’re not here and I am.
But they’d tell me to not spend my time worrying about that.
Jeri would look at me with those steely blue eyes, with that all business, “now you’d better listen to me, because I know I’m right about this” expression she had when she was my professor. My principal. My sister. My friend. She’d tell me to get that surgery over with, and do the radiation, and finish the Herceptin.
And in the meantime, get back to work, Sally. Keep going.
Because there are kids who need us, she’d say. To change the world.