This year marks my 5 year anniversary of having had breast cancer and having (hopefully) beaten it. (I’ll know I beat it when I die of something else, which is not my original line, I was told that in the oncology room, but I use it all the time because it says it all.)
So I was sitting in the waiting area and I happened to hear the woman next to me, who was maybe in her 50′s or early 60′s, talking on her cell phone, sounding slightly rattled. I checked her wrist to see if she had a band. That’s how I learned 5 years ago as I sat in that waiting room who else was in my boat. If you had the patient wristband (with your name and birth date on it) you were in my boat. If you didn’t, you were a friend or family member trying to help keep the “boat” afloat.
Within a few moments, the woman’s daughter came into the waiting room and we struck up a conversation. We all decided that cancer stinks and this young girl, a musician and singer-songwriter, is committed to fighting breast cancer in whatever way she can. Her mom has it, and that’s about as close as it gets.
When the nurse called my name to see my doctor, I smiled a goodbye and leaned over to the mother and flashed her my wristband. “Hang in there. I have the wristband too.” And then I added, “Sisterhood.”
Later that night, I emailed this woman’s daughter (she gave me her card) and told her that I got on her website and really liked her music.
Then I wanted to write something to her mom. I wanted to tell her that she is not alone–she is part of the sisterhood that none of us wanted to be in. We are a big group, a varied group, of mothers and daughters who are fighting this thing in our own way, with our treatment plans, our families beside us, and our white paper bracelets. We are a unified, terrified, full-of-pride group of people who must lean on each other any way we can, even in snatches of time stolen in a waiting room full of people.
And then something flashed in my mind: a book I read a few summers ago, the one about the 4 girls who share a pair of jeans and all the adventures they have and the growing they do while encased in these jeans–it was called “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.”
But as I sat there writing this email I felt a sisterhood of my own: a sisterhood with this woman’s mother, and all the woman in that waiting room today, and all the women who ever had or have to wear those wristbands and sit in waiting rooms not just in Boston but in Denver and New York and San Francisco and LA, and hear a doctor tell them they must lose their breasts, or a breast, or a piece of their breast, a slice of their womanhood, a defining portion of what makes them appear female.
And how they have to push themselves to make it through, to survive, to grow, to be stronger than the disease, to push back, to thrive, to live.
And I found myself ending my email with: “I hope your mom had a good appointment today. Tell her to hang in there–she is not alone. We are out there with her–
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Wristbands.”