Reaching the Double Nickel

Reaching the Double Nickel

I shivered in the parking lot at my kid’s school with four other moms. Originally, I planned to peel out of there before anyone could see me, but Leeanne caught my eye and then I saw Shannon, and before I knew it, I was parking the car and walking into the huddle.

School drop-off is like a cocktail party without the cocktails, a party that takes place outside in 20-minute intervals over the course of many years. We watch our kids grow up and we watch each other grow up, too.

It didn’t matter that these ladies would see me in jeans I bought during the Reagan administration or that I wasn’t wearing a scrap of makeup. It was the hat. I didn’t want them to see the hat.

But there I was, out of the car and feeling awkward, debuting my new hideous style.

The fact was I was lonely. Between traveling for treatment and being sick in between therapies, I hadn’t seen anyone other than Gary or Lauren in a very long time. That little huddle of women was irresistible.

I tugged the Burgundy wool tighter over my baldness and wished I had unruly curls playfully teasing the sides of my face or that my skin had the angelic look of the models on all those cancer sites. The models who sell skullcaps somehow look beautiful, the light catching dewy complexions and peaceful smiles.

During my first chemo sessions, I tried freezing my head, but it didn’t work for me, so I lost my hair anyway. My eyebrows and nearly all my eyelashes were gone and my face seemed worn out.

“Sorry about the cancer look,” I sheepishly said when I arrived at the circle. Saying those words out loud felt like shattering glass in an empty room. I looked around and registered a fleeting image of shock on their faces, the recognition of the change I was undergoing. All my life, I’d enjoyed robust health, and so it was hard for me to identify with my new normal. It must have been hard for them, too.

That moment in the parking lot took place five years ago. That’s the memory I remember when thinking about my 50th birthday. I had so few social interactions during that season of life, and that one happened right before I transitioned to a new decade.

I’ll celebrate when I turn 55, I thought as I wandered back to my car.

When I was diagnosed, an oncologist told me I’d be dead in three months. I wasn’t sure I would see the double nickel. If I do, I thought, I’ll make that birthday a good one.

But this week, the double nickel went by quietly.

My husband was out of town dealing with a tenant who decided not to pay his rent. In California, that situation is brutal for landlords. It’s a long, expensive process that jams itself onto Page 1 of the to-do list. We never know how long it will take to get our property back or what condition it’ll be in when we do.

Meanwhile, our daughter was practicing the Charleston. She had a lead role in her school play and all her time was scheduled. “If there’s any way I can get home,” Gary told us, “I’ll be there.”

The eviction, Lauren’s play, and my 55th birthday all crammed into the same moment. All of us wanted things to be different, but they weren’t.

(Photo by Nancy Brier)

I spent the day alone, ate leftovers at the kitchen counter, and plunked one lone candle into a cake I baked myself. But when I blew that candle out, all my wishes had already come true.

My husband did make it home to hold my hand as we watched our daughter dance across the stage. It was like watching an exquisite flower blossom in front of my eyes. Having my soul mate at my side was peaceful contentment. Everything I ever wanted and needed was right there with me.

I had a fabulous birthday, a cancer-free moment that doctors never thought I would have. For that, I’m grateful and happy.

When I turn 60, though, we’re going to have a party.


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.

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