Tomorrow I will be flying – if British Airways cooperates – to the other side of the world, to the very tip of Africa, crossing two continents and an ocean, to settle my butt on sofagirl’s sofa in her Cape Town house. Sue has planned more activities than a professional travel agent – and I suspect she typed an itinerary to keep everything straight – but, knowing us, a few things will fall by the wayside in favor of chocolate and Netflix on the sofa. This blog is not called Campari and Sofa for no reason.
The last time we saw each other was nearly two years ago in New York. To be more precise, we reconnected around midnight on a dark street in Brooklyn. I arrived with heavy baggage, in the knowledge that, a few days after my return, I would undergo breast cancer surgery.
Some people thought I was mad to postpone a surgery to fit in a trip that had been planned over months but, with the blessing of my surgeon, I instinctively knew it was the right thing to do. Being with my best friend was going to infuse me with the strength and level headedness I was going to need in the months to come. We laughed, we kept the panic at bay and, all in all, had a jolly good time, quite a bit of it spent on a not so comfortable Brooklyn sofa with chocolate and Netflix. Plus ca change…
Receiving a cancer diagnosis – or any other serious illness for that matter – does not affect just one person but an entire family and beyond. To get through it, it takes a village. At the hospital where I volunteer, I see disease taking its toll on everyone around the person lying in bed. It’s not unusual for family members to break down with me, recounting the history of an illness in precise details. I recognize the tiredness, the worry, and, at times, the impotence.
The medical community is only now beginning to take into consideration the whole person and the support network around her when suggesting courses of treatment. Overcoming serious illness becomes a collective endeavor. I know it was for me. I benefitted from the doctors, certainly, and their caring staff but my resiliency was supported by my amazing family; by the friends who checked in on a regular basis; by my mother and my other best friend, Silvia, who decided, unbeknownst to me, that letting me spend Christmas with a bandaged breast and no proper tortellini just wouldn’t do, and showed up unannounced; by spending two weeks in New York doing silly things. Everyone helped me walk the tight line between focussing on the disease but also carrying on with the business of living.
At a time in our country when healthcare has become part of a noxious political discourse, how can we not take into consideration that keeping people healthy benefits an entire society? That disease is not a set of calculations and bottom lines but the measure of a progressive nation?
For a country whose Constitution proudly claims an individual’s right to happiness not to recognize that there can be no happiness without health, is a shameful shortcoming.
This is my parting rant. I am going for two weeks of reconnecting with my best friend, hoping to take in an elephant or two in the wilderness, and planning to enjoy fully all the moments in between. Maybe you will hear from the both of us, if a cocktail or two inspire us to write. Maybe you will just have to wait for my report back.
In the meantime, take care of yourselves and of those around you.