There has been a lot written lately in the blogosphere about the relationship between cancer survivorship and gratitude. It seems that cancer is supposed to teach us some great lesson about life. It is supposed to make us better people. We are expected to create bucket lists and begin fulfilling them. The roses should be smelling sweeter. The summer breeze should be more refreshing.
There are many people who survive cancer or live with cancer for the long term due to metastasis who begin having this new perspective on life after or during the cancer experience. Then there are those, like me, who have not changed for the better, at least in the way that is expected of us.
Last Monday it was about 90 degrees here in NYC. An old college friend who is starting a photography business asked if she could take my headshot for her portfolio. I was excited for the chance to have professional pictures taken of me so I could start seeing the new beauty that others have been saying they see in me but haven’t been seeing in myself. We decided to meet at Grand Army Plaza in Prospect Park here in Brooklyn. There isn’t really any direct public transportation to that spot from my house but it’s only about 2.5 miles away so I decided to take my bicycle.
I love riding my bicycle and I got a pretty new one last year right before my cancer diagnosis. This was the perfect bike for me. It was lightweight and a size XS so I could touch the ground and hop on without tipping over like I do with some other bikes. The plan was to begin riding everywhere to save on gas money and for physical fitness. So despite the heat, in my cute little dress and with a full face of makeup, I mounted my bike and headed for the park.
My ride was perfect. I was in the shade the whole time and I felt good I was slowly made my way though the park. I parked my bicycle at one of the many bike racks provided by the park and spent the next hour and a half taking pictures throughout the neighborhood. But when I came back, my bicycle was gone. My beloved bike had been stolen.
At first I thought it was my chemo brain. Maybe I had parked it in another spot and didn’t remember. I went to the other bike racks in the area and my bike wasn’t there. I went back to the spot where I knew I left it and someone else was taking their bike out of the spot where I was sure I had put it. “Did you see a bike here or someone taking one out?” He hadn’t and said he parked his bike there because it was empty.
Gone. Disappeared. Vanished.
I called the police, sat on the grass and waited for an hour for them to show up. In that time, I threw myself a pity party. I thought to myself, “First I get cancer! Then I go through surgery, chemo, radiation and lymphedema. And now I get my bike stolen? What the fuck? When do I catch a fucking break?” And I cried. A lot.
After the police came and I filed a police report and was told I wouldn’t get my bike back even on the off chance they found my it because I never registered it (I’m supposed to register my bike?), I caught a bus to meet up with some local moms in my area who had just formed a cancer group. I had been looking forward to meeting them so I didn’t let my bad experience take my plans away.
We met at a lovely restaurant with a backyard. We were all talking and I don’t remember how we got on the subject but one of the women started talking about how cancer had changed her. She no longer lets the little things in life get her down. “If my air conditioner breaks down, who cares? I’ve been through worse.” (I’m paraphrasing here. These were not her exact words.) Others started to agree saying that the small inconveniences or setbacks didn’t get them down. But that’s not the case for me. I said, “I just had my bike stolen and I’m really upset about it. I know I’ve been through worse but cancer hasn’t changed my reaction to things. In fact, it’s made it worse.” They seemed genuinely sad for my circumstances. I was not judged for my point of view but I felt ashamed that I was freaking out about a bicycle, a replaceable item when I have experienced much, much worse.
But here’s the thing. I do sweat the small stuff. I always have. Cancer hasn’t changed that. I actually feel that the details in life now have more weight. If something small but wonderful happens to me, like someone saying hi to me on the street for no reason, it makes my day. But if something doesn’t go my way, like I miss the train or my bike gets stolen, it can be devastating. I think the joys and pain of life are not necessarily in the grandiose, life changing moments but rather, in the details. Like the smile of your loved one on your wedding day that only you noticed. The restaurant that closed five minutes before you got there on your last day of vacation, and you’ll never be back there again. The perfect breeze as you sit in the park and read a book.
I think that people expect that those who have cancer should be changed. That we should reach this state of enlightenment where we are so grateful to be alive that nothing gets us down. For some people this happens. And that’s great! It really is. I hope to learn from these people and gain some perspective when life gets me down.
But maybe my way of thinking isn’t so bad either. In fact, I think those like me should be celebrated equally as our “glass half full” counterparts. So, hurrah for crying over spilled milk, because it costs more than $3 per gallon and you just paid two co-payments this week and refilled your drugs and money is tight! Cheers, for pouting because your husband threw out the Ikea catalogue before you got to read it on the couch with a bag of cookies like you were so looking forward to! Hurray, for crying in the park because my beautiful, beloved bicycle got stolen and I felt victimized and it’s wrong and it sucks!!!!
Because life is about the little moments. The details. The small stuff. At least it is for me.