With one eye open and one closed -- it feels like an energy saver -- I stare at the eBay page and click on "Sell an item." I slump low in my chair and type out my ad: "Broken (but spirited) body seeks new owner." I weigh inserting an exclamation mark after spirited, to add an allure of enthusiasm. I decide against it.
I want rid of my post-cancer body, which cancels plans and puts my life on hold. And today eBay seems like no worse an option than the dozens of others I've tried to turn my health around, from world-renowned doctors to Berkeley acupuncturists. I feel hopeless. And insane. I step away from the computer and drive to Starbucks to mark this occasion of being upright again after four housebound days.
"I hecka love your hair!!!" says the 17-year-old barista Mandy when I lean against the register. I laugh, with an I-almost-forgot awareness of the dirty, red strands coming out of my head. Her eyelids flash at me with their Valentine-pink glitter. Mandy is a shock of sweet. "What's UP?" she sings.
"Oh, you know," I say, California casual, like flicking a frisbee in a pair of cutoffs. "Not much." I avert my eyes, feeling shame about my eBay moment of madness, when I catch the other barista's yellow Livestrong bracelet. It pops against his dark skin.
In the first few days of my ovarian cancer diagnosis -- before I did a drop of chemo -- I pictured my "take that cancer" comeback of 26K runs amidst a throng of teal pom-poms. (Teal is my cancer's brand color.) Curiously, that's not how things worked out.
I have been lucky enough to be recurrence-free, but struggle with a chronic black out condition as a result of chemo. My mind-body connection is less symphony, more smack down. Body wins.
Staring at the barista's yellow bracelet, I realize how much my definition of living strong has changed over the years. It's no longer about finish lines; It's about trying to stay in the race. For me, this is some of what living strong looks like:
• Passing out in dresses. One-thirty p.m.: I sit on the edge of my bed and groggily reach for my Champion sweats. I have a lot to do. Exhausted from lifting my legs, I lay back atop the sheets. Three p.m.: My blood pressure continues to drop because of my defeatist sweats. I peel them off and put on jeans and a Banana Republic button-down shirt. I kneel down to the floor for a minute. Four-thirty p.m.: 'If you look better, you'll feel better' rings in my hazy head. I get off the floor and put on a dress. It's an unrelentingly perky one: Doris Day gingham. I don't remember anything else.
• Older ladies consoling me in parking lots. Wearing unraveling wool gloves in June, I try to turn the steering wheel of my car to do just one more loop of this "FULL" hospital parking lot. The steering wheel feels as heavy as a large bag of sand to my needle-bruised arms. Unmovable. Exasperated, I stall the car and start to cry. A concerned lady -- some forty years my senior -- approaches my window. "There should be spaces for people like you," she leaned in and whispered.
• Outsourcing the baking of cookies. It was Tim's birthday and I wanted to impress him with a special birthday lunch. Specifically, I wanted the smell of chocolate chip cookies melting in the oven to hit him when he walked through the door. The snag was I didn't have the energy to do both: make the cookies and actually be at the lunch. I remembered my neighbor Diane's "If there's anything I can do " offer, which she probably envisioned as prescription pick-ups, and called her. I excitedly lined up the Gold Medal flour, the Nestle chocolate chips and the sticks of butter and Diane rustled up those cookies something beautiful. She snuck out the door minutes before he walked in. He loved the cookies.
Living strong also looks like letting go of those moments when I feel I haven't been strong. (See eBay ad.) After all, it's hard to be canary yellow every day.