I found myself in the tire department of CostCo trying to take stock of my life today. As I sat next to a row of tires, on an iron bench, under the gaze of a smug Michelin Man poster, I wondered “How am I different?” I should mention that this is not my ideal place to have a soul searching moment. My thoughts are constantly interrupted by folks arguing with hapless tire servicemen and the occasional bump of my giant cart of crap that I’ve purchased over the last two hours. It didn’t even occur to me to get a beverage or a snack. I didn’t plan to be here conteplating the meaning of the rest of my life; it just kinda happened. It was better than listening to a stout little Mexican lady dress down Scotty for not fully informing her of their return policy. No, the corner of a CostCo warehouse is not where I imagined I’d be in my post-chemo phase. I thought I’d be surrounded by supportive friends and family, sharing holiday memories and clinking glasses next to a tastefully kitchy tree. Not stuck next to a tire mascot who bears a striking resemblence to the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man. I’ve got another 15 minutes, Scotty tells me, until my car is ready with its new snow tires. Fab. I guess I’ll gaze at my navel some more.
My friends tell me I look healthy and happy. I am quite refreshed from a relazing cruise under the warm Caribbean sun. But honestly, my side effects are worse than ever. The neuropathy is the strongest its ever been. It stings everytime my finger strikes the keyboard. I still have bloody noses and mouth sores, and the cold weather is killing me. I really thought this stuff would be fading by now, but the residual chemo in my system seems intent on kicking my ass as long as possible. This is really starting to buzz kill my holiday spirit. I don’t feel like jingling any bells when I can’t feel my feet.
Then there’s the family and friends who talk about how “special” this Christmas is. I know they mean well, but this is what I hear: “Lets make Christmas extra special for Chris this year since she’s not dead!” I get it. I’m extremely fortunate and I have a lot to be thankful for, but it is weird how friends all wanna spend “quality time” with you, once you get cancer. I’m glad to see everyone, but I can’t help but think that they’re getting face time with me before I croak. Maybe I’m imagining things. My head houses a major drama queen.
And I feel uncomfortable refering to myself as a “survivor”. I still have these weird little dots on my liver that may or may not be cancer. So, I’m in this post chemo, watch n see mode that could last indefinitely. I’m probably more “living with cancer”, but that’s awkward and makes it sound like we’re dating. Survivor sounds passive and its a crappy reality show. I’ve been toying with Tumor Assassin, but I can’t exactly toss that out at my husband’s work events or business networking sessions. I don’t know what to call myself. I’m not “cured”, “in remission”, or the coveted “NED”. (That’s No Evidence of Disease, for you non-cancer peeps.) I’m just Chris who still kinda sorta has this crappy disease. This is not inspiring me to don my furry Santa hat.
I glanced at my heaping cart. A new record for the Blumers – $420. And I still haven’t paid for the tires. I think about all the money my treatment has cost us and all of the lost revenue I’ve missed due to my illness. I feel mopey and sad. But as I start to inventory my massive haul, I realize there’s 5 bottles of Champagne to share with friends, lump crabmeat for the new appetizers I plan to try out on Christmas day, cheese to entertain friends who drop by, fancy coffee to enjoy while my Mom is in town, and a few snacky things to nosh on while I cook. I realize that these items are all props for the holiday scenes I will undoubtably enjoy over the next week. Backdrops for merry making. Set dressing for fun. Its a cart full of potential. Plus some detergent and Fabreeze.
I guess it OK that I don’t feel very “different”. I expected some great change or wisdom to wash over me in the past few weeks, but I guess that’s not how things work. As I trudge through big box stores amongst the healthy, I forget that I have the luxury of just looking “normal”. No one offers to help the sturdy gal with hair haul her crap to the car, but no one stares with looks of pity either. Nope, maybe these moments of clarity occur while your hunting for a discarded box to schlep your olive oil, chicken broth and tomato paste. (Why is it that the only thing I can’t seem to find at this big box store is, in fact, a large box?) A fleeting thought that somehow resonates as you stare alternately at your snowy boots and the Michelin Man’s recomended tire rotation schedule.
As I move forward to claim my hubcapless Nissan, I realize I don’t think I’ll ever waste 15 minutes of my time publicly barrating a 20 something tire service guy. I think that’s the kind of epiphany that I can realisticly expect now and again. Scotty seems relieved to be assisting someone who isn’t pissed. I thank him and wish him a happy holiday as I push my ginormous cart into the snowy parking lot. No one offers to help and I smile.