So, I did something very embarrassing (and now, you will for sure keep reading because we all like to hear about OTHER people doing embarrassing things. It makes us feel less weird). The other day I was going for a walk in my neighborhood. As I turned the corner, a white van was backing out of a driveway, and on each of the back doors there was an Orange Ribbon Sticker. Could it be? A fellow Leukemia patient? Apparently I truly needed to connect with someone who can relate to me on this level, because I walked right up to the van and accosted this poor man. I said, “um, I know this is a bit weird but I noticed you have Orange Ribbons on the back of your van, are those for Leukemia? Because I have, I mean HAD, Leukemia and anyway I was just wondering…?”. He just stared at me for a minute like he had no earthly idea what I was talking about and then said, “Uh no. I work on a road crew and those ribbons are there so that drivers see the Orange and slow down.” In hindsight, I wonder how Orange Ribbons will make that happen. Are they saying, “LEUKEMIA AHEAD: PROCEED WITH CAUTION!”, or “SLOW DOWN OR WE’LL MAKE YOU WEAR A LEUKEMIA RIBBON!”?. Not sure if I am offended or honored that these are being used to slow down drivers on road construction sites. I thanked him, and apologized a few times, and off I went. I almost started to cry, which surprised me. I really wanted him to have or have had Leukemia. Very disappointing. 🙂
It’s been a little over a month since I have been declared “done” with Leukemia. I am so grateful to not be fighting with my own body all the time. But, there is still something in me that, dare I say, misses Leukemia. Well, probably not the disease itself, but some of the good things that go with it. Like people being nicer at stores because I am bald. Now they treat me just like they used to. My hair is long enough now that people really aren’t sure what to do with me. I think they suspect that I have had chemo, so they say “I love your summer ‘do’ ” when what they are thinking is “I am pretty sure you wouldn’t do that to your hair on purpose but am also not 100% sure you’ve had chemo either.” They are trying to get me to divulge the answer without them having to actually ask the question. Anyway-I am getting distracted. My point is, my “almost crying” made me realize that I have a fondness for that period of my life. It drew me closer to God, to myself, to my family and friends. It helped me meet new friends and inspiring cancer patients and amazing nurses and doctors. It led me to write, something I never dreamed I could do (at least not in a way that anyone would enjoy reading it!). I also have to say, that just on a superficial level, cleaning my own house and cooking my own meals really stinks. And I want to talk about it. I want to talk with other Leukemia patients who know exactly how it feels to have a few random symptoms, take a blood test, end up in the hospital for 30 days. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200. Someone who knows what it means when I talk about my blood counts and the numbers that go with them and what Consolidation entails and how sad it is that I no longer have a button to push for assistance and that I can’t have IV Ativan and Zofran to help me sleep like a baby (sigh-I sincerely miss that). I recently had some other Wonder Women over to my house for coffee. They all have or have had some form of cancer. When we left, a suggestion was made (and this was by someone who HAS cancer and has to talk about it everyday, so I understand) that we do something fun together that doesn’t involve talking about cancer. What a great idea! We are definitely going to do that. But I have to admit, that part of me had them to my house precisely because I want to talk about cancer. For better or worse, it changed my whole life in 5 months and I am not ready to not talk about it yet.
I am probably being too specific about cancer, making it a challenge for people who DON’T have cancer to relate to. I guess what I would say to people on both sides is this: I think God has put a yearning in all of us to be a “part of”. “Part of” a group of people who understands how we feel or what we have gone through because they have been there too. It’s the comfort that comes from being able to say, “you too? I thought I was the only one.” That’s why community is crucial and isolation is deadly. When we suffer or celebrate in isolation, we live with a profound sense of loneliness. It’s important that we find friends who are different from us, to balance us out and help us grow and learn. But it is imperative that we find ways to be in community with people that we can relate to on a soul-level and can help us feel ”part of.” It’s not easy to do and sometimes it takes trials and errors to land in the right places. God did not make man to be alone. So today, maybe you need to be on the lookout for the van with the orange ribbons on the back-someone or someplace that is inviting you in.