While I was going through treatment for Lymphoma I made the decision that once I was in remission I would get a tattoo. The image I wanted was a Charles Schulz character named ‘Number Three’ who dances onstage in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. She’s one of a pair of twins (her sister is named, ‘Number Four’) and as they dance they reverse the steps so they’re mirror images of each other. (Apparently there’s an entire family within the CB world that are named 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5)
I’m happy with the tattoo. It’s on the underside of my left forearm and whenever labs are drawn the nurse will always say, “Oh, I like your tattoo!” For the first six months I had it, it kept startling me when I’d glance down and see it. But now I love it, it was done by the same artist (Aaron Armstrong) who did my bike tattoo a few years ago.
Sometimes folks will ask, “Did you get that tattoo because you’re a dancer?” and after I finish laughing, I explain the story behind the tattoo. I do enjoy dancing, but I’ve never been great at it. In the 80’s, at the base of a statue of King Wenceslas in Central Park, there used to be folk dancing on Sunday nights. I’d participate when I could, I was never the best dancer, but I really enjoyed the fun and the camaraderie! These days, when it’s hard to walk to the kitchen and I’m using a walker, I daydream about being able to folk dance again someday!
During this long cancer journey (I tend to run the Lymphoma and Leukemia experiences together) I’m constantly being called a ‘warrior’, and told to ‘kick cancer’s ass!’ or ‘shove cancer to the curb.’
These suggestions feel odd to me. I understand the intention, folks are telling me to be stronger than the cancer, outlive the cancer, make the cancer go away.
Maybe it’s because I’m a bit of a chickenshit, and cancer is such a huge adversary that I can’t really fathom ‘fighting’ it in any traditional sense. I’ve always hated boxing, or any ‘blood’ sport. Flying teeth make me cringe. And let’s face it, there is enough blood involved in my treatment with constant lab draws and transfusions, I don’t need any more.
Gerry’s cancer journey was quite long, almost 12 years, and as I watched him deal with the slings and arrows of stem cell transplants, constant pain, multiple visits to the doc and the never ending fear that this would be his last birthday/Father’s Day/Passover/holiday season, I was struck by how gracefully he managed everything. Gerry set the tone for his recovery, and it was humble — just like Gerry.
I learned so much from Gerry, and I hope he learned from me, too. Gerry was never a violent person, he told me before we were married that he couldn’t imagine striking someone that he loved, could not imagine spanking his children. Coming from a home with an abusive father, that was music to my ears. Once friends asked if he’d like to go duck hunting with them, his response was, “I don’t know if I could actually SHOOT a duck, I think I’d try to reason with it instead…” (I think that was originally a Woody Allen line, but Gerry’s delivery was perfection.)
As I face my OWN cancer experience, which is turning into a long-term ride (better than a short ride, if you know what I mean…) I remember how gracefully Gerry dealt with Multiple Myeloma. I don’t mean to make Gerry sound like a saint, he was very human, but had an excellent sense of himself, and a great sense of humor, which informed how he reacted to what life had thrown at him.
I try to be myself as I deal with my cancer. So many folk seem to want me to become a WARRIOR, Wonder Woman, or some Ninja Cancer Fighter. I’m not. That’s not me. I’m more of a comedian than a fighter, I’d rather laugh at cancer until it slinks away, humiliated, and I can get on with my life.
My little tattoo has given me the perfect way to explain my own philosophy of my cancer experience. I’m dancing with the cancer. Sometimes it leads, and dips me, and I feel like I’m almost going to die (the operative word here is almost) At other times I know the steps, and I can out dance the disease, which is what I intend, ultimately, to do
And if I am not able to out dance it, at least I’ll have more fun than if I tried to ‘kick cancer’s ass’ or any of the other fighting analogies folks insist on pinning to my cancer experience. I like dancing better than fighting, and I like laughing best of all. We all try to find our hope where we can, I find my hope in joyful experiences through the day. Fighting doesn’t bring me joy. Remembering my kind, funny, intelligent husband does.