I trekked down the cobblestone street, the plastic soles of my flip-flops conforming to the shape of each rock, while a hot wind bathed my sweaty skin in layers of grit. A dog dozed on the sidewalk, the slow rhythm of his breath the only other sound competing with the hot silence of the dusty afternoon.
Suddenly, a man pushing a rattling wheelbarrow appeared from around the corner and bumped his heavy load into the middle of the empty intersection and yelled. A kid ducked out from the door of a nearby pink house and raced over. He looked to be about 4 years old.
“What is going on?” Lauren asked me. I smiled, remembering the first time my parents took me to Mexico when I was just about the age of that little boy.
“He’s a corn-on-a-stick guy,” Gary said.
I could feel the sun burning my white arms and the back of my legs. Brilliant orange nasturtiums dripped off a vine against the boy’s stucco house, and through an open window, I caught a glimpse of a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico’s patron saint. I was happy my husband had booked this last-minute trip.
The man with the wheelbarrow wrapped his hand in a cotton towel and removed the lid of a huge metal pot. Steam lifted into the humid air like a scene from a Halloween funhouse, and he dipped his tongs in and pulled out an ear of corn.
Then, quick as a magician, he peeled back its saturated husks. Green leaves formed a ponytail at the base of the cob, and drops of moisture fell into the dust near our feet. With a sickle-shaped blade, the vendor lobbed off the husks with a single clean swoop and stabbed the soft cob with a pointed stick, making it a corn popsicle.
The kid watched the process the same way I’ve seen Lauren watching in ice cream shops. Readying the treat is all part of the experience, the waiting, the sweet agony, the anticipation mixing with impatience.
The corn guy selected a wedge of lime, dredged it in salt, and smeared it over the rows of shiny kernels, green against yellow in colorful swirls. I smelled the citrus mingling with the sweetness of the corn and the dust clinging to my skin.
“¿Mayonesa?¿Crema?” The salesman asked the boy.
“No, gracias.” The kid handed over coins. Cob in hand, he scrambled away, licking salty lime residue from his fingers before settling down on the curbside, his bare feet blending with the earth-colored road.
I watched the boy take a bite, corn and pleasure all over his face, and I was struck by the beauty of the moment.
Six months ago, at my twice-a-year agonizing breast cancer checkup, a doctor spotted something unusual.
“We’re going to need another image,” the technician told me, pulling me back into the exam room at a point in the process when they normally say I can go. She smashed my breast again and asked me to wait. Other patients came and went. Something’s wrong, I thought.
Then she called me in for more — and another agonizing wait.
Finally, the tech led me down a hallway to a back door. Some poor sap drew the short straw and has to deliver the bad news, I thought. But we landed in the sonogram room, and my tech positioned me and some pillows awkwardly, so they could get a better look at whatever they needed to see.
That’s my good one, I thought, as two new doctors squirted juice on my left breast. Doctors don’t usually do this, I thought, techs do. It’s bad. In the dimness of that room, they stared at a screen, and one of them swirled a little wand over my skin just like the vendor swirled his lime over that ear of corn.
I know my cancer risk is higher than normal, and I knew then what it would mean if it had come back. I squashed an impulse to panic.
“We’ll keep an eye on it,” the doctor in charge said. I threw my top back on, sticky fluid soaking the cotton fabric and clinging to my hair. I couldn’t wait to get out of there.
Cancer stinks, but the perspective it brings is undeniable.
It helped me to say yes when my husband spotted a bargain trip to Mexico. “OK,” I said. “Let’s go.”
That morning, on that dusty cobblestone street, I shared a moment with two strangers whose lives are very different than mine. I experienced the very essence of it — the smells, the textures, the colors, the flavor.
This disease takes chunks out of our lives. But sometimes it gives a little of it back. And when that happens, it’s beautiful.
Note: Breast Cancer News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Breast Cancer News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to breast cancer.