Thank you to Marie at Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer for inspiring this post. Marie asked her readers to share their other life. To share that which filled their days before or after breast cancer. When days were spent on more “normal” activities. Life lived, as it should be, not in some altered universe where cancer takes center stage, but where it’s a non-entity.
My question was which life should I write about? I’ve more than one. There’s the one before breast cancer and there’s the one before motherhood. Both make up the person I’ve come to be.
I went with a time before motherhood, before marriage even when the opportunity arose to take a class in modern day video editing. Modern, compared to the last software I cut with about ten years ago.
A lot changes in ten years. Careers change, couples marry and an urban working girl becomes a stay-at-home mom in suburbia. Not that I don’t love it, but the world didn’t stand still while I changed diapers, and when I learned of the class, I hesitated. Something I used to know so well had changed so much.
All sorts of negative thoughts emerged.
Who’ll pickup the boys?
The class is way downtown.
Everyone will know so much more than me.
I’m having nipple reconstruction surgery the day after the first class. Who does that??
Screw it… I went.
I took the train to the big city I’ve always loved. Where my other life really took shape. It’s the city where I went to film school at NYU. It’s where I shared an apartment with best friends and then lived solo in a studio on the corner of 52nd St. and 8th Avenue with killer views of the Hudson River and sunsets. It’s where I worked for more than a dozen years on BMW and L’Oreal commercials and shows for VH1 and Nickelodeon. It’s where I met my husband.
Once at Grand Central I took the shuttle across town to a west side subway and popped out on 14th St. and 7th Avenue as if I’d been doing it all along. As if I never stopped doing it. It meant something to me to know my way without looking lost…like a tourist. Like someone who didn’t belong. It still, even after all these years, felt right.
Over the course of the four weeks, I felt reconnected to the other life. I loved walking around seeing how neighborhoods changed. I enjoyed class, learned a lot and even knew things about editing that other students didn’t. That was a nice confidence builder.
On my second to last day, I had an extra hour before taking the train home. Instead of hopping the subway back to Grand Central, I decided to walk the whole way.
Twenty-eight blocks and six avenues. Six very, very long avenues, possibly the equivalent of 3 blocks each, so figure, another 18 blocks. A little more than 2 miles total, give or take, and it was raining…hard.
There was freedom in that walk, in the city that was once my home. No one to answer to but myself. I was free to stroll, browse, reminisce, and then without evidence of present day life anywhere to be found, cancer crept in, reminding me things were not truly the same. Reminding me I may be able to return to old days in some ways, but not all.
I was okay, though. It inspired me to speed up my walk. I wanted to beat cancer by walking faster than anyone in the city that day. Cancer wouldn’t kill my ability to move, to be physically strong, so I floored it and except for one incident where a guy in front of me managed to take up the entire width of the sidewalk while carrying a sandwich, I was flying past everyone.
I knew walking was good for me, as taking the class and venturing back into my old life, had been good for me. I was more than the sum of motherhood and breast cancer.
About 40 minutes after I set out, I reached Grand Central, drenched in rain and sweat. Happily, I entered the train station only to find myself surrounded by a sea of people selling cupcakes for the American Cancer Society.
I couldn’t believe it.
I had some thoughts then. The first was to wonder where exactly this cupcake money was going? The second was, who else in this great hall had cancer or even stitched up nipples from reconstruction like me? The third was, cupcakes probably weren’t the best option for me right now.
I was tired of cancer right then. I made my way through the maze of good will and headed for my train without a word to anyone. Without buying a cupcake. I left it all behind.
Near my track I bought a lemon sorbet. The money wouldn’t benefit anyone except the company that made this yummy treat, but it was good for me. It was a good ride home.