Sunday, March 24, 2013

Happy Easter, Survivors!

Reformed cancer survivor with morning smoothie.  
I was shopping in Publix. I was at the deli counter to buy sliced ham. A clerk told me he’d be right with me. I told him to take his time. He was finishing up an order of sliced corned beef, he explained.
“Here,” he said. “Try this corned beef. It’s so lean! No fat at all!”
     He laid out two big slices on butcher paper. It was delicious. I don’t eat a lot of meat. I don’t love meat. But he was so joyful, so enthusiastic, I had to eat the corned beef.
    “Hey,” another customer said. “Are you giving her samples of my corned beef?”
    “Oh! this is your corned beef?” I said. “Thank you. It’s really very good.”
    “I’m glad you enjoyed it,” she said, chuckling as she headed off with her cold cuts. 
    Before I was finished chewing the beef, the joyful man pushed another sample toward me. It was ham; two big slices on another piece of butcher paper.
    “Try it,” he said. “See if it’s what you want.”
In truth, I’d had enough. I was buying the ham for my husband, Michael, the Southern-bred meat eater in the family. But, again, the guy was so sweet and happy, like an old time butcher in a little town grocery store. So, with my other hand, I picked up a piece of ham. Now I was a two-fisted meat eater.
    “Are you June Keith?” a woman new to the scene asked. 
Easter, 2011. Puleeese let my hair grow back!
    I know this woman slightly. She is a nutritional consultant, a guru of what to eat for maximum health, often in the local press. I think she has a radio show, too.  She is a great advertisement for her brand of healthy eating. She is bright-eyed, lean, and youthful. And there I stood before her, with two fists and a mouth full of meat.   
    “How are you?” I mumbled, through the salty beef.
    “I have cancer,” she said. “I just found out.”
    Dear reader, I hope you are seeing the tragedy and the comedy in this little slice-of-life drama. I, a cancer survivor, am stuffing my face with nitrate-laden, fat-streaked, carcinogenic meat, while this lovely woman who probably last tasted meat in 1968, tells me she has cancer.
    It seemed wrong to eat that meat as she told me her story. She is going on an extreme diet, she said, a diet that eliminates any carbohydrates whatsoever, because carbohydrates turn into sugar in the body, and cancer feeds on sugar.
My beautiful, young and healthy Mennonite neighbors in Nova Scotia, picking strawberries.
    I become very nervous when people tell me they plan to cure themselves of cancer with a severe diet. If only it worked that way! But that isn’t her plan, thank goodness.  She only wants to do what she can to discourage the cancer. She’s going to doctors to handle the job of killing the cancer cells. I told her I’m sure that’s her best chance for a cure.
    “I’m cured now,” I said. I told her it’s rough. My oncologist told me, at the very beginning of my treatment, it would be “no walk in the park.”  No, it was a walk in the valley of the shadow of death. But I survived. And she will, too. I’m sure. We will both live on to die of something other than cancer.
This opera singer lived to be 99 years and 9 months old. Smoking Chesterfields. Go figure.
    At home, when I told the story of our meeting to Michael, I told him that I am often amused at how arrogant we humans are in the face of our destiny. Before there was chemotherapy and radiation and PET scans, there was nothing but a person becoming sick, then sicker still, and then dying. This is how we’re made. Like a flower, that with enough water and sun, flourishes on earth. Till it doesn’t. And so it is with humans.
    I had a big checkup the other day with the oncologist. I thought it would be bigger than it actually was.  He felt my neck. Looked down my throat. Studied my blood test results, my lung X-ray and my PAP smear, and told me to call him if I found any hard lumps in my lymph nodes. No more scans. No more tests. No more regular six-month checkups. Today, I am cancer free, and beyond the reach of anything more modern medicine can do to me.
    The doctor did tell me that since I’ve had cancer once, I have a greater chance of getting cancer again. But hopefully, he added, the cancer will never come back and I will die of something else.
    Like what? Being hit by a bus? A heart attack? Old age? Stress brought on by worrying about my cancer returning?
    “The good news,” Michael said, “is you’re too old to die young.”
    I’ve already performed the miracle of rising from the dead. And very soon the burden of my medical bills will be turned over to Medicare. So pass the ham. And the marshmallow Peeps. And the chocolate bunny. And the Cadbury eggs. ‘Cause nobody dies on Easter Sunday.


  1. The sunglasses with the morning smoothie was a photo opp or thats how you dress for breakfast??

  2. Congratulations on hitting that cancer free milestone!

  3. I found your blog! I loved every part of this one though. As I told you today and will continue to tell you every day afterwards, you are light. Inside and out, you have it coming out of you. I am glad we are friends