Ever get the feeling you’re smothered by yourself? You look for the exit sign and can’t find one. I was looking for an escape route the other day, while I was mired in “shoulds.” Anthony Robbins has a very good aphorism to describe all these shoulds in our lives: he says, “After a while you end up shoulding all over yourself.” That fit me down to the ground. And I know it’s you too, don’t lie to me, or yourself.
What can I say? I lean toward being a melancholic introspective. For a few days I wallowed around getting “shouldings” all over myself. In the end it was most unsatisfying to my psyche, not to mention a ginormous waste of precious time. Then, most often as not, a movie quote pops into my head. It was a famous Humphrey Bogart line from Casablanca. At the end of the movie, standing in the misty fog, Rick’s convincing Ilsa she must leave Casablanca with her husband. He says, “…it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” Each of us has our own crap and each of us think it’s insurmountable and for the most part it’s not in the grander scheme of things. There’s some shame involved once we arrive at that realization.
Bogie straightened out my thinking. His words focused my thoughts on my best friend Laura. One word describes her, undefeatable. It was my good fortune to meet her about eight years ago at college. Returning to university after a twenty-year period is a daunting undertaking. Aside from regular eight to five jobs, additional responsibilities and commitments, schoolwork requires much time and attention. Laura and I enrolled in many of the same classes consequently we became very close friends. Our bonding was cemented the semester we took statistics, which will forever be remembered and referred to as the nightmare from hell.
Unbeknownst to me, Laura was living a real hellish nightmare. She was fighting ovarian cancer. After three misdiagnoses, by the time she was properly diagnosed, she was in end stage ovarian cancer. At that point, the “statistical” survival rate is 2%. She had no time left – she was considered a dead woman. Laura rejected the statistics. She informed her oncologist she would not become a statistic. It wasn’t denial. It was a simple truth. She refused being taken out easily. Laura had no intention of “going quietly into that sweet night.” No way, she was pissed off! Instead, she laced up the boxing gloves and stepped into the ring; no Queensberry rules here, she was fighting dirty. Laura, the pugilist, the boxer was determined. She would throw the knockout punch and be the last one standing in this mismatch.
She underwent an invasive surgery, followed by horribly aggressive rounds of chemo that slowly ravaged her body, which involved painful injections to stimulate white blood cells in order for her to undergo more chemo. The cancer went into remission followed by a recurrence. The prognosis wasn’t hopeful. Indefatigable, Laura chose more chemo and participation in a clinical trial. Scans indicated she required another critical surgery. Bring it on.
During all this, we spent many an evening hanging out in her cozy kitchen, listening to opera, drinking wine, with me looking on while she prepared a gourmet meal out of what she terms, “refrigerator food.” I wasn’t being a slacker, cooking and gardening are Laura’s therapeutic passions. Certainly, she had down, sicker than a dog days yet she didn’t whine, say poor me, or play the martyr. In fact, she was remarkably undefeatable. She never missed a day of work or a class. Laura’s a veteran marathoner, having run over 30 marathons. Only weeks after a big surgery, against her doctor’s wishes, she ran the New York City Marathon. She ran Boston. She ran, she ran, and she ran. It’s my belief that with every stride, she crushed that damn hideous cancer into the ground crushing it underneath her feet. Nothing stops her from living her life. She attends the opera and symphony, makes vacation plans, spends time in her secret garden, and enjoys her family and friends. Cancer has never defined her.
Laura’s journey has taught me many life lessons. Statistics are bullshit, (btw, she made an A in that class!), don’t believe everything the “experts” tell you, do not sit still, live your life, revel in your passions, and never ever throw in the towel.
P.S. Laura is a seven-year survivor and going strong. She’s my hero. Go champ!!!