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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Pick'em On Up! Pick'em On Up!

A week ago I was walking my daily 1-2 mile loop (if I'm tired, I do a single loop, and if I feel OK, I double it) when I realized, after being 2/3 of the way through the single loop, that I was pretty exhausted. I concentrated on just putting one foot in front of the other, plodding slowly toward home. A young man, probably UNC undergraduate from his attire (UNC T-shirt, skateboard) was passing me on the opposite side of the street. Seeing me, this young man yelled out encouragingly, loudly (for 8:30am on a Saturday) and enthusiastically,

"Pick'em On Up! Pick'em On Up!"

At first, I must admit that I didn't know he was talking to me. I think it's because in our neighborhood, it's not unusual to find people talking or even shouting aloud to themselves. But I quickly realized that this guy was hailing me, so I gave a small wave and then continued to concentrate on getting myself home so I could collapse on the couch. But this guy, seeing my acknowledgment re-doubles his cheerleading efforts by again shouting and clapping, in rhythm to his words:


My one-man cheering stand apparently wanted to encourage me to run--to jog--to stop plodding slowly along and instead to feel that second wind and continue my work out. Since I was wearing a baseball cap, perhaps he didn't notice my hairless state. At any rate, when I realized that this guy wanted me to RUN when it took all of my resources to simply WALK, I felt this rush of frustration and anger at this guy. I mean, who did he think he was??? Maybe I had just finished a 20 mile run and was limping home? Maybe I just didn't feel like going any faster. Or maybe, as is the case with me, I have cancer and just finished 4 months of chemotherapy and walking for a mile is just about all the exercising my poor body can take at this moment. I wanted to take off my hat, point to my hairless head, and say to this guy

"I can't--I have cancer!"

But of course by the time I thought about all of this, the guy had already passed beyond my line of vision and out of earshot of me.

So what's the point of me recounting this anecdote?

Conflicting stories. The story that this guy had when he saw me was of a weary jogger who just needed a bit more encouragement to find my groove and to keep on running. The actual story, as I was experiencing it in my body, is that I probably pushed myself harder than I needed to by walking a full mile and was paying for it in the last 1/3 of the way home, so that just putting one foot in front of the other was enough of an effort for me.

And I guess the thing is, I only have my story to tell. My story--my experience with breast cancer and chemotherapy and my upcoming bi-lateral mastectomy surgery--is simply my story and may or may not resonate with anyone else who has been diagnosed with breast cancer and who undergoes (or who underwent) similar treatments.

I've been thinking of this since in the week before my surgery I'll be giving a talk (flyer is below) with the CWC in Donovan Lounge and saying a few words at the charity ball. And I agreed to do both these talks because if figure if I'm blogging about my breast cancer experience and being so public about it, then talking about it in front of groups of people shouldn't be so difficult. And it's not the sense of privacy I find a bit daunting but the feeling that somehow I have words of wisdom to offer or insights I've gained or even a particularly interesting story to tell about what I've gone through. It makes me wonder what people see when they see me--that like the young man who saw a weary runner, are others perceiving me in a way that is contrary to my own story? I know I don't look the way we assume someone who has gone through chemo would look--I never lost a lot of weight, I had a healthy tan going into chemo so I never really looked pale or ashen, and esp. with my wigs on and with a shirt that hides my port, you really can't tell that I'm living in a different body now than I was before my diagnosis.

But I am different. I am inhabiting a body that is simply not capable of walking more than 1-2 miles, let alone running a quarter of that length. My neuropathy gets better and then it gets worse. I'm experiencing intense hot flashes because my body has gone into temporary (perhaps permanent?) menopause. And some days I feel more energetic than others but I definitely feel periods of fatigue nearly every day. And that's just the physical stuff.

Anyway, I haven't quite decided what it is I'm going to talk about on Tuesday, October 12--the title on the flyer and description and image below were written up by the great folks at the CWC -- I love the title and the description and hope I won't disappoint anyone who comes. I know I have a story to tell--I guess I just wonder how compelling it is.

And in case anyone is wondering, I see the above design as an unraveled or deconstructed pink ribbon, so I'm A-OK with it!

1 comment:

  1. Jen -- Why not start your talk by telling this story? It articulates your emotional state right now, your struggles to make sense of your experience, and your awareness that every person has a different experience with cancer -- even those of us who haven't had it (yet).
    Thought-provoking, and a good place to start unwinding the "Theoretical and philosophical" aspects. Telling your audience that you have no words of wisdom and why is honest, meaningful, and a type of wisdom in itself. Don't hide from it, explore it. Just a thought! Elysa