December 7th, 2010

On my way back from a long meeting at work I swung into a Starbucks in an upscale shopping center. It was still mid-afternoon, and I was hoping to beat the traffic, and as I stood in line I scanned the crowd–a lot of thirty to forty-ish business men and women on breaks or in informal meetings of their own, and by the wall I saw one group of women all nicely dressed, one in a wool dress, whose head was completely bald.

“Oh–cancer survivor,” I thought, and my eye continued on.

And a few seconds after that I realized how remarkable that was, and how much an indication of progress and time; it was not long ago that a woman suffering effects from chemo would be wearing a wig or a hat or wouldn’t be out in public at all, certainly not with a group of other women who looked like they were all discussing something other than their friend’s health. She was pale, she had the waxiness around the eyes that would indicate this was a good day in a period that could get tough, but even sitting next to the wall, this woman was in full view of everyone in a very public place, and she seemed to be lost in conversation with her friends, not worrying about anyone else.   Almost as significant, I noticed that no one else in the cafe was staring at her.

I went back to the car with my coffee and headed onto the freeway, and got a call from a friend on my Bluetooth; in the middle of our modern-era electronic communication she was also scanning her computer and interrupted our conversation when she saw the news release that Elizabeth Edwards had died, at the age of 61.   So many of her actions these past six years have advanced the way we respond to cancer.  One of the reports I heard this evening quoted a friend who described when she asked Edwards how she wanted to be remembered, she said, first, as a mother who loved her children.

This is also the anniversary of the day my mother died of pancreatic cancer, twenty-four years ago.  She was fifty-eight years old.

Now for the efforts and experiences of so many, a moment to appreciate a clean breath: children who know we’ve been loved.

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About Kathleen G. White

Kathleen White is a writer living on the edge of Puget Sound and sizing up the discrepancies.
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