I’m sitting here in my cubicle, watching the cars drive by; watching our IT manager brave the rain in a noble attempt to get some winter exercise.
And I marvel at the ordinariness of their driving and walking. I wonder how, knowing that Elizabeth Edwards died from breast cancer yesterday and that millions of women will die from the same disease, they can drive and walk with what seems like naive oblivion.
I wondered the same thing, when as a mom who had just returned to full-time work two months prior, I listened to my radiologist gently tell me on the phone at work that my ultrasound/biopsy revealed the fact that I had 10 lumps in my right breast. “Infiltrating lobular cancer,” she said. Not, “Infiltrating lobular carcinoma.” I listened as I stood in the corner of the stairwell by the elevator. I listened as I watched someone drop a pat of butter on the carpeted floor as they walked back to their cubicle with their lunch. I listened as I watched the receptionist answer the phone and route calls. I listened as I heard my own terrified voice ask Dr. Borofsky questions.
When I walked back to my desk, I wondered how everyone else could go on with their lives with this devastating news hanging in the air.
Two months later, I had a bi-lateral mastectomy, followed by chemo and radiation.
It is now almost five years since my surgery.
What I’ve discovered in that time is that there are people feeling with the same depth of concern, compassion and sadness that I am feeling. The world may look normal, even oblivious, but there is a community of women who have experienced what I have experienced; who know what it feels like to have had and to live with cancer; who understand that terror management and practicality and faith is what keeps us looking normal while we learn a new job in a swingy brunette wig with a chest as flat as a prairie under our prosthetic breasts; who understand that every new milestone of our children’s lives (the braces coming off, the first day of college) fills us with inexplicable joy and gratitude.
As I drove in the rain to work today, I listened to the radio with a heavy heart as Elizabeth Edwards’ voice filled my 2000 Toyota Sienna. It was an interview in which she talked about the lasting impression of seeing an Obon ritual in Japan, where little boats with lighted candles in them float down a river, symbolizing the souls of the dead finding their way to “the other side of the river.” It was a stunningly beautiful image. Tears welled in my eyes. And no one in the cars around me noticed. I wiped my eyes and smiled. Because I knew there were people on I-280 south who were listening to the same radio interview, who had a mother or a sister or a daughter or a wife who had had breast cancer. Who themselves had or have breast cancer. And I knew, as they drove looking straight ahead, that they were feeling what I was feeling.