(A re-post from the archives. My friend was diagnosed a year ago this week–celebrating how far she’s come)
At the infusion center, reclining chairs line the walls. Patients hold hands with husbands, with friends. Some occupy themselves with Soduku puzzles. The hosts of The View provide background noise, screeching at one another on television sets suspended from the ceiling. A young woman wearing a compression sleeve sits next to her mother, both watching a sweet blonde boy try his mother’s car keys in the lock of a medical supply cabinet. He gets tired; he wants his mother to reach down her compression-sleeved arm and lift him to her heart. All receive cell-killing, life-preserving fluids from bags suspended from poles.
In our corner of the room, women wear scarves and wigs. They smile. They ask, “Which treatment are you on? Which number is this for you? Who is your doctor?” There is silence when one reveals that she is triple negative. Among these women in this place, they know what that means. They speak vocabulary that, until recently, was a foreign language: bilateral mastectomy, lymph node involvement, reconstruction, Herceptin, Taxol, Tamoxifen. Each has had to look family, friends, husbands, children in the eye and give breath to the words, “I have breast cancer.”
Slowly they shared pieces of their stories, their journeys. One passed around a picture of her sons. My friend shared a newspaper article about the rock band she sings with. One revealed that she is a professional opera singer. And then it began, building slowly–the laughter. They showed off and laughed about having cleavage after reconstructive surgery. They laughed about the improbability of laughter in this place.
And then the wigs came off. They compared scars and stubble and the broken places where cancer had touched them, had wounded them. And they laughed.
I sat there, surrounded by reclining chairs, the infusion bags, the women speaking foreign words. I heard their improbable laughter and knew I was bearing witness to something life-giving and beautiful. There was healing and strength and grace among this sisterhood of women brave enough to take their wigs off.
I think of my sisters who sit in pews lining church walls. I think about our broken places–the scars, the stubble, the places that need to be exposed to grace, to holy, life-giving laughter. Will we be brave? Will we take off our wigs and allow healing to begin?