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This is the Certificate of Merit that the hospital gave to patients upon finishing radiation:

The crude diploma impressed me that the doctors recognized our need for a proper pat on the back and something tangible to hold on to by way of closure. I wanted closure anyway. After 6 weeks of a work-a-day rhythm that involved visiting a bunch of lovely people whose job descriptions included saving my life, I had a groove in my weekdays. They say it takes 21 days to make a behavior, good or bad, a habit, and I’d been getting my breast blasted for 30. Seems silly, but I missed the routine a little, and so I met one of my radiation buddies for tea.

Marisa (pronounced ma ree sa) and I had struck up a comradery during an unusual delay in the waiting area. Self identified as a “high anxiety” type,  Marisa’s blood pressure spiked when the radiation tech explained the delay was due to equipment malfunctions. She reasoned that faulty equipment might also malfunction on her breast, panicked, and turned to me to talk her down. I was committed to trusting the process, so I probably said so, and, really, I have no idea what I said to soothe her, maybe it was simply that I listened and let her blow off steam. Whatever, she calmed down enough to wait out the delay and stick to her radiation regimen. I remember that I fancied myself her savior that day, but, I wonder now if tending to Marisa was a divine distraction for me. Given some free time, I was just as able to concoct a scary story.

As it happened, we both received our Certificates of Merit with our breasts intact and, so, arranged to celebrate by meeting for tea. As we shared our breast cancer stories over steaming mugs, I learned (what came as no surprise to me) that Marisa and I had very different approaches to our diagnoses. As I wrote at the start of this blog, when the doctor told me to line up a surgeon because the two lumps in my right breast were malignant, a calm washed over me as the still, small, quiet voice within me whispered “this is your walk with God.” Marisa reported that when the doctor told her she had cancer, she screamed. Yet, despite our different temperaments, we had similar approaches. Marisa determined at the start, like me, that it was futile to wallow in  “Why?” or “Why me?” and chose to focus instead on how to heal. And, now at the end of arduous healing journeys, we both shared greatly enhanced appreciations for life as we sipped our herbal teas.

We did not manage to keep in touch, but I have a keepsake from my radiation buddy that I have in a scrapbook right next to my Certificate of Merit. It’s an essay written in 1989 by Anonymous (a terminally ill person) that described how Marisa hoped to be in her post cancer life. It’s entitled I’d Pick More Daisies:

If I had my life to live over, I’d try to make more mistakes next time. I would limber up. I would be sillier than I have been this trip. I know of very few things that I would take seriously. I would be crazier. I would be less hygienic. I would climb more mountains, swim more rivers and watch more sunsets. I would eat more ice cream and less beans. I would have more active troubles and fewer imaginary ones. You see, I am one of those people that lives life prophylactically and sensibly and sanely, hour after hour, day after day. Oh, I have had my moments, and if I had it to do over again, I’d have more of them. In fact, I’d have nothing else. Just moments, one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day. I have been one of those people who never go anywhere without a thermometer, a hot-water bottle, a gargle, a raincoat and a parachute. If I had it to do over again, I would go places and do things and travel lighter than I have. If I had my life to live over, I would start barefooted earlier in the spring and stay that way until fall. I would play hooky more. I wouldn’t make such good grades except by accident. I would ride on more merry-go-rounds. I’d pick more daisies.

Thank you, friend and teacher Marisa, for the reminder as there are new daisy fields to ravage, there are new adventures just around the bend, as this epic healing journey is almost done.

to be cont…. one mo’ time.

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