Today, the dean of the college called to ask if I'd substitute this week. The professor who needed a sub was going to the beach with a friend who has breast cancer. I suppose some people decide to coddle their friends with breast cancer. As for us, we insist Dream Girl meet us in the freezing weather every Saturday morning at 6 a.m. for a seven to 10 mile run. Rain, snow, ice or even a full moon, we're out there slogging along the trail.
This week, Dream Girl finishes her last radiation treatment. Nine months ago, she told us on the trail that she'd found a lump in her breast -- a lump that she unconciously rubbed as she waited between sets of lifting weights. "I'm sure it's nothing," we all said, including her. Instead, we made it into a joke about the mammogram machine being broken and whether the jaws of life would be called to free a woman's breast.
Then we learned that she did have breast cancer. They removed the lump and some lymph nodes. Within weeks, she was back running again with a drainage tube secured. Next she ventured through the world of chemotherapy. In October, she ran the half marathon to celebrate the end of her chemotherapy. For the past few months, she has been going to radiation. She enters a room alone and has a beam of radiation aimed at her breast. She is nearing the end of her treatment.
Cancer has changed her life. Not just in the fact that she had to think about death and how she spends her life. She says she has learned so much, things she never would have learned without the cancer.
She hasn't been sick. Most people get throwing up, lying down sick from the cancer treatment. We worried that she wouldn't be able to run with us. We'd walk instead, we decided. Or, we'd meet for coffee. Now we laugh at our fears. She is in better shape than all of us.
Other than not being able to run, the two things she worried about were -- gaining weight because of the steroids and losing her hair. Dream Girl had long dark hair that she would cut off to donate to Locks of Love. She couldn't imagine that hair being gone. But after it started to fall out and she shaved it, she loved the way she looked bald. She refused to wear a wig or a scarf or a hat. She went au naturel. With her shiny head glaring, she started a job as a tutor at a high school. The students assumed it was her look. Dream Girl had no shame about her bald head.
She had planned to get in great shape over the summer before she learned that she had cancer. Then she worried that she wouldn't be able to exercise and that the steroids would make her puff up. Wrong again. She has lost some weight. She is in her best shape ever. When a nurse said to her, "Thin, small breasted women like you..." she wanted to look over her shoulder. Who was that nurse talking to? But it was Dream Girl who is now thin and small breasted!
Even before Dream Girl's chemotherapy ended, her hair was growing in. She looked like a baby chick, all fuzz around her head. Then, a few weeks later, a salesgirl called her "Sir" because she resembled a balding man. Now though, her hair is coming in thick and fast.
She's on target to meet her "goal" of having hair by her birthday at the end of the year, even though Pam pointed out that it is silly to make a goal for something you have no control over. Maybe a wish, but not a goal.
And, a few weeks ago, her eyebrows and eyelashes suddenly sprung to life too.
She's the old Dream Girl, except she isn't and she never can be again. She has lived through an experience, no, not lived through it, she has embraced this experience. She's learned so much about life by looking death in the face.
They say that cancer patients forget about their new outlook on life after a few years. I can't imagine Dream Girl putting this away and returning to a suburban life. She has plans.
She has backpacks and pop-up tents. A sleeping bag that weighs ounces and hiking boots that won't rub off her toenails. She dreams of hiking the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. She wants to gather in every mountain and ocean, every bat and raccoon, every moonrise and sunset. The world is truly her oyster, and she has earned some champagne to go with those oysters.
A toast to you Dream Girl for making it all look so easy, for blazing the trail everywhere you go.
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