My husband and I are practicing for a talk together. We don’t always agree about what we should be saying. Sometimes he doesn’t seem to realize how brilliant and perfect every single one of my ideas is. He thinks he has better ideas.
What idiot came up with this plan that we should collaborate on a talk? I wonder. We’ve been married 38 years and we’ve never collaborated on anything before, aside from kids and life. Who thought this kind of professional collaboration was smart?
Oh, that’s right. It was my idea.
But he agreed to it, too, so there’s enough blame to splash around.
“You have all the best lines,” he grumbles.
“That’s because I’m the one who had cancer,” I point out.
We’re speaking about our experience with breast cancer at a gala fundraising brunch for the Breast Cancer Resource Center (BCRC). The brunch is Sunday, September 11, at the Long Center in downtown Austin, at 11 a.m.
The BCRC, which provides education, counseling, and support for breast cancer patients and survivors, was one of the first places I contacted when we moved from Dallas to Austin in 1997. It had only been two years since my diagnosis and a year since my treatments were concluded.
Everything was still fresh and raw then. Terror still swept over me, consumed me, turned me into someone I didn’t want to be, out of control and helpless. Our children were in high school and middle school, and I wondered whether I’d live to see them graduate from high school. I’d read, obsessively, about my odds of survival; at 10 years, I had a 40% chance of being alive.
I joined a survivors’ support group at the BCRC, with several other women. In so many ways, at that point in my life, they were the only people who understood me. Everybody else thought I was unscathed and healthy, a card-carrying member of the normal world, an average 47-year-old. They had no idea — and I would have died rather than tell them — how terrified and damaged I was. The women in my BCRC support group understood.
I have a photo of five of us close to the desk in my office. I think it’s from 1998 or ’99, at the BCRC brunch. We have our arms around one another and we’re smiling big for the camera — Alice Arndt, Martha Hale, Donna Meadows, me, Cindy Doran.
Thirteen or so years later, Donna and I are the only ones who are still alive. That’s what happens, too often, in cancer support groups. You draw support and love from a wonderful, but unnervingly fragile source. Maybe it’s that fragility that allows you to become so intimate so quickly, to skip the usual preliminaries of friendship. You benefit greatly from that quick, intense camaraderie, then you pay dearly for it, and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.
All of which is why my husband and I are speaking to benefit the BCRC. It helped save me when I needed it desperately.
And yeah, I’ve got the good lines. No matter how much he grumbles, my husband understands they belong with me.
(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)
You might want to read a somewhat related post by an irate survivor