Here’s one of the great things about living on beyond cancer. You may get to see New York City one more time. That’s where I am right now—enjoying my first real snow day since I left for California. Outside, a Nor’easter hurls snow and tosses the branches around in a landscape of white. Inside, I’m warm and cozy, perched in a dormer-ceilinged room looking out on the Verrazano Bridge.
Back when I lived in New York, I had no idea cancer would cross my path. My challenges were all about how to make a student film at NYU, with no money and no earthly idea what I was doing.
We did not get a snow day on my first film project. What we got was a day in the snow, at the mercy of the constant, frigid wind off the East River.
It was mid-January when our three-person crew pulled up beside a deserted patch of ground in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge. I was the camera operator for the day. Unfortunately for me, our director saw his movie from a worm’s eye view. I spent eight hours on my stomach in the mud, so cold the camera kept freezing up. But that wasn’t the hard thing. The hard thing was getting up at dawn the next day to go out and do it again.
Pulling my steaming coat off the radiator, I felt like I was in one of those cartoons where a devil sits on one shoulder and an angel sits on the other. In my mind, I called in sick a dozen times—and each time willed myself not to chicken out. Until I was out on the sidewalk, I didn’t know which side of me would win.
“Snow day” took on a different meaning after cancer came into my life. You know what I mean. You show up for chemo; you’re more or less prepared to run this gauntlet again. But as they draw your blood beforehand, you have a secret wish. Just for today, your white blood cells or whatever will be too low. Just for today, they’ll say you’re too compromised for chemo. Just for today, they’ll send you home.
This is obviously not good for your cancer treatment. But the kid in you—the child who wants to scream at the needles and the IV drips and the fake good cheer of it all—she wants a snow day.
The actual experience of chemo was never unbearable for me. But as I got further into my treatments, it got harder to show up. I’d start that inner argument: I can’t/ You’d better/ I won’t/ You will.
Both voices would yammer in my head as I prepped the day before. At the supermarket, I’d fill my cart with bottles of electrolyte-loaded sports drinks. A doctor in the ER had told me they would help me tolerate chemo better. I learned to gag at the sight of those bottles. To this day, I steer clear of the sports-drink aisle.
How did I get my head back in the chemo game? Sometimes I’d remember my adventures in film school—the ridiculous places we put ourselves in, and the fact that we survived it all. Those memories became Well Again moments. Eventually I’d have to smile, and then I knew I’d be okay.
By the way, my second day as camerawoman under the Brooklyn Bridge was just as awful as I thought. We wrapped ourselves from head to toe in garbage bags; the wind froze us anyway. Less colorful commuters gave us a wide berth on the subway home. Through our fatigue it took us a while to realize we looked crazy. We accepted the stares as proof that we had left our limitations behind. We had showed up once and we would do it again. We were survivors.
I’d love to hear your stories about living on beyond cancer. Please email me here, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.