Tim and I went to the Cancer Survivor/Caregiver dinner on Thursday night. It was the first time that I had really dressed up to go out in a very long time. I wore make up, and experimented with eyeliner, with surprisingly good results. Even though my turtleneck was covered by a wool blazer, I felt self conscious and wondered whether my lopsidedness was evident. I experimented with a scarf, and finally abandoned that effort. I took a deep breath, slipped on a pair of heels, and Tim and I left the house. It was an interesting night, one that put me in contact with a wide variety of cancer survivors. One woman still wept when trying to tell her story. Another woman and her husband were very angry at what they perceived to be the failure of medical diagnostics. One woman claimed that our lives would never, EVER be the same again. I sat next to the most perfectly cheerful woman I have ever met, cancer free for 34 years. Across the table sat a retarded woman, an 8 year survivor. I ran into an old classmate, who has dealt with cancer 3 times in 7 years. She told me that when her hair finally grew in after the third chemo treatment, it came in pure white. I was surprised to see the elderly lady who had so quietly sat listening to our little group talk that morning at the Cancer Center. I knew that she had chemo just a few hours ago, but there she was, sitting with the same quiet expression on her face listening to the others at her table. People from every walk of life, their emotions, their responses as varied as their life experiences. I did not have too much to say. I listened. Sometimes, Tim and I exchanged a look, a wry smile when something was said that touched on familiar territory. At the end, when Tim's name was called as the winner of the doorprize, he received a big bouquet of daffodils. Embarrassed, he handed them to me. Before we left, I whispered a question, and his arm tightened around my back. I gave them to the elderly lady from the Cancer Center. "I think you need this bright patch just a wee bit more than I do at the moment," I said, and I gave her the bouquet and a hug. We talked about chemo for a minute, and then Tim and I headed out the door.
I thought about things as my heels clicked across the parking lot, my long red wool coat turned up around my neck against the cold. I looked at the stars as Tim walked beside me. I really wonder how I will look back on this time. Years from now, I wonder what I will say when people talk about cancer. Viewed from the future, looking back, it takes on a hopeful perspective.