This essay won honorable mention in the WOW-Women On Writing Winter 2017 Essay Contest. Excerpts are featured in my book, Hug Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer. I earned my first 2018 payment as a writer—a $20 Amazon Gift Card! Big hugs and thank you-s go out to the hard working WOW staff and judges.
A Funny Thing Happened Along the Cancer Journey
Actually, there were several funny things that happened during that first year of cancer. Recognizing and laughing through the comic irony and silly antics were key ingredients in pulling through a year of fear, uncertainty, and nausea. As my friend and fellow cancer sister, Colleen Hofmeister had put it, “…I choose to follow the chuckles.”
I was dealing with daily radiation therapy—the last leg of the breast cancer journey Part I. Already worn out from an eight-course hit of chemotherapy, I was cranky and weak—not my best traits. Less than halfway through the 6-week regimen, my neck, chest, and breast sported painful open sores. The doctor advised me to use a specific lotion that was sticky and odorous. My daughter, Hallie, a former health food store clerk and family expert on the benefits of tree barks, Himalayan flower stamens, and rice milk, advised me to go the local earth and twig shop and ask for an aloe lotion. She listed all the ingredients it should and should not have.
The tight aisles were crammed ten feet high with remedies for every type of bite, bump, or burp you could imagine. After I had browsed through gels that managed everything from bee stings to colon repair, a young, braless clerk in a sweeping biodegradable dress and hemp sandals adorning dirty feet offered to help. I was intrigued by her blonde Rastafarian hair and thick eyebrows. She immediately expressed an audible gasp upon learning that I had recently finished six months of chemotherapy and was now undergoing radiation therapy.
“Ahh! You should have come in sooner,” she said, shaking her head. “It will take years to purge the pollutants from your body and soul.”
I was tempted to confront her on this point. After all the research I had plunged into to decide on the most successful and aggressive treatment options for my type of breast cancer, I knew what I was doing. My goal was never to face cancer ever again. I wanted her to know that my mother and grandmother, as well as thousands of fellow sisters, had pioneered before me and endured trial protocols, making survival more possible and safer for me and the next generation of newly diagnosed. If she had real proof that green leafy vegetables cured cancer, she would have to wash her feet and get to the nearest hospital with the word CANCER sprawled across them!
But I was there to buy aloe gel, not start a debate. Life is too short to get angry at people who have not walked in my flip-flops.
“I’ll start with the gel,” I replied.
She claimed that the chosen gel was as pure as possible but would not keep my skin and general health in good balance. She went on as to how I was to love myself (not enough self-love causes cancer?) and began what looked like a self-massage routine in the tight aisle. Yikes! Abandoning Hallie’s list, I quickly bought the small tube and darted for the door before she climaxed.
Although this was not the advice I had sought, I had to smile each time I used the aloe lotion. The story always got a good laugh. At the time, I needed a hearty chuckle more than the lotion.
Check out the winning essays on WOW-Women On Writing website.
Antoinette Truglio Martin is the author of Hug Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer. The memoir is a wimpy patient’s journey through her first year of breast cancer treatment.