Recently, I flew to the Bay Area for a checkup to ensure my cancer is still gone. I perform a ritual every six months: Buy a ticket, pack a suitcase, reserve a car.
It always takes a long time to find a parking space near the hospital, so I allow an extra hour to drive around in hopes of getting lucky. Once, I used a nearby parking garage, but I’m pretty sure I could rent a four-bedroom apartment back in Missouri for the price I paid for that crazy indulgence.
The problem with parking on the street is that the meters let me pay for only two hours at a time. I know that rule is designed to keep space-hogs from monopolizing parking spots all day, but my cancer checkups sometimes take a long time. I plugged my credit card into the slot, set a timer on my cellphone, and dashed through a neighborhood that by now feels familiar.
After chemotherapy in Palo Alto, I switched to the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) for surgery and radiation. In some ways, this gritty part of San Francisco feels like home. I’ve made art here with other cancer patients, and through UCSF’s Firefly program, I’ve exchanged letters with medical students. My daughter Lauren and I baked cupcakes for doctors and staff members. I even have fond memories of the time someone stole my shoes while I was having a lumpectomy. All these experiences are woven into my journey with cancer, as part of my survival story.
At the hospital, my first stop is always the meditation room, where I try to get my head in the game. Before I go upstairs to the exam rooms, I like to hit the pause button and treat myself to a few deep breaths. What I ask for, every time, is peace. I know peace is readily available, even for people in prison, even for people with terrible diseases. I remind myself that peace is never dependent on outward conditions; it’s a state of mind. Usually, I leave that meditation room feeling that God is right there with me and that whatever happens, my family and I will be OK.
Then, I head upstairs and put on a blue-and-white-striped robe, cinch it at the waist, and wait for my turn with the doctors. That’s when I start thinking about two things: cancer and parking tickets.
It’s odd to have two opposites on my brain concurrently, a big thing and a little thing. The big thing helps me put the little thing into perspective, but let me be clear. I don’t want either one, especially not on the same day.
I sat in the waiting room flipping through magazines, aware of the countdown on my cellphone’s timer, and wished I could feed the meter. It’s going to cost a couple hundred bucks if I get a ticket, I thought. My monkey mind fixated on two distinct images: cancerous lumps and overzealous meter maids.
Impulsively, I decided to take action. “I’ll be right back,” I said to the startled receptionist. Then, I flew through the hallway, leaped down a flight of stairs, and sprinted six blocks to a meter that had just expired. Cramming my credit card into the slot, I gave myself two more hours, then raced back to the waiting room.
Antiperspirant is not allowed on mammogram days because ingredients in some of those products can skew the results. My back and underarms were dripping with sweat and my lungs heaved with the severity of my effort. But the technician called my name and in I went.
During October, it seems like the world transforms into a breast cancer awareness bubble. Football players wear pink socks. Cheerleaders shake pink pompoms. People give me water bottles, cup holders, T-shirts, tote bags, pens, pencils, and hats — all pink. I even have flashing, pink ribbon-shaped chip clips that glow in the dark. We pin them on the dog when we take walks at night. After I unwrapped my third pink scarf one October, my family and I started referring to this phenomenon as “scarfing.”
I’m grateful for the attention the world has showered on my disease. Those resources help countless families, and I am a direct and grateful recipient. But this month, I couldn’t help wishing that I could make a little change.
I don’t need a new pink scarf. But I do need a place to park. Patients in cancer treatment need parking vouchers during appointments.
If you work with cancer patients, I’m asking you to spread the word: less scarfing, more parking. Because no one wants a cancer diagnosis and a parking ticket all in the same day.
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.