It’s been a while. You OK? I am. I’ve shifted 40+lbs – yay! – nothing quite so delicious as getting into clothes you haven’t been able to wear for oh so long. And the resulting compliments are far more nutritious than anything Cadbury’s could cook up. Blood work is all good. Energy levels super high. MRI looming but not bugging me (yet).
Seven months in and I feel healthier than ever. This presents me with a challenge. How can I deepen and cement the solidarity I have with you, built on the empathy, interest, concern and sympathy you’ve expressed? How do I do this now we are past the initial crisis, and are into the unknown of when and if I return to that point? How do I entice you with me even while I don’t exhibit negative symptoms that you or anyone with a friend trying to evict a TEF would expect to see?
You are probably worried that I’m suffering horrible side effects from the heavy duty chemo i’m on, five days every month. Like me, you will have known people with cancer seeing their hair fall out, overpowered by nausea, unable to live in any sense normally. Perhaps you’ve known people paralyzed or traumatized by the cancer curveball hurled at them, consuming their emotional state and dictating every aspect of their lives, defining them. You might see me with my electronic headset, generating heat and accompanied by myriad wires, bags, batteries. And you may well wonder how the hell I cope with that in the summer sun. And how unbearable not to eat carbs or sugar ever, let alone zilch after breakfast two days each week.
But I was born happy. Perhaps you saw me this summer in London, or Ireland, or here in New York. If yes, you know I’m looking well. And I explained how good I’m feeling. I’ve seen so many friends, smiled and kissed and caught up, received compliments and support and love. I return to everyday life with a fully stoked heart.
Help me keep that fire burning. Here’s the deal. I will answer any question you have about TEF, how I’m feeling, what treatments I’m doing and why (and why not). You can be as intrusive and personal as you want. Or avoid all mention if you’d rather. I’ll answer honestly, even when – and perhaps especially – I don’t have an answer. Because this is my time to show you, and me, what I’m made of.
This summer I’ve played the whole cast, from mother and wife to daughter, sister, cousin, colleague and friend. Now I’m home and shedding those roles, with the liberation that being an immigrant affords. Of course this also entails acknowledging the buckets of homesickness that come from saying goodbye to those across the pond. But it also affords me the opportunity to recognize my strength. If I can move continent in middle age, build a successful business as a woman the wrong side of 50, help mould three outstanding emerging adults, and make an AAA list of friends, then WTF does TEF think it’s up to? No chance.
As I enjoyed everything that Virgin Atlantic business class had to offer (Julia H, how do you do it, darling friend?), I watched a beautiful documentary about Nora Ephron, made by her son. Here’s a woman who was so open about something so intimate – the breakdown of her marriage to Carl Bernstein – that she wrote a book and film about it. And yet, diagnosed with a rare and devastating form of leukemia, kept her illness secret. The consensus from her friends was that Nora chose not to share the news because, in Liz Smith’s words: “She was a control freak”.
It may surprise you to hear me deny I’m a control freak. Challenging, obstreperous, PITN (stands for Pain In The Neck, a name my RE teacher gave me at school), victim of verbal diarrhoea. OK fair play. But in this life I’m just as at sea as you, and you, and you. Let’s keep holding hands while we defeat the rip tides. I’m doing fine but who knows for how long. I know you’re with me. Please stay…. And ask, challenge, advise, share….
I need you.