The air presses against me, heavy with humidity, enfolding me. Normally an unwelcome sensation, this particular Saturday it seems fitting that the world outside reflects my insides. I hike up the hill at a quick clip, trailing my dogs. Beads of sweat form along my hairline and my heart starts to race, but not because of the incline. I tell myself if I walk faster, I can outpace my feelings. It’s a lie. My stomach twists into knots and the tears slide down my cheeks.
Eighteen years ago, the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, I was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. I skipped my friend’s wedding without saying anything until after she got back from her honeymoon. I couldn’t bear to be around people celebrating. But also I couldn’t tell her about my illness and cast an unwanted shadow on her special day. So I stayed at home and cried. I don’t think of that weekend often anymore. In fact, most Memorial Day weekends I don’t even remember this anniversary. Usually, I remember later in the summer, after the fact, that another year has passed since cancer tried to kill me. The distance is nice.
Yesterday, I learned a dear friend has cancer, ten years after surviving a different cancer. Medical procedures plague her family story, one that’s not mine to tell so you’ll just have to trust me that this is so fucking unfair. I know that feeling, processing such news while everyone else barbecues, laughing with friends, like I’ll do this weekend because the cookouts have already been planned.
I walk even faster, primed with adrenaline. She has cancer again, a different one. I think she will be okay though. I do. But nothing slows down. A wave of nausea washes over me. She will be okay.
I’ve had three near misses with cancer myself: A melanoma in my late twenties, breast cancer in my mid-thirties, and two pre-cancerous colon polyps at fifty. Any of these left untreated would have killed me. That’s a fact. Most days I like to think that cancer had three strikes with me; You’re out! But today I believe I’m the one that’s out. Today I feel the weight of my body’s propensity to allow mutated cells to grow unchecked. Today I am certain a tumor grows somewhere inside of me, only I won’t know where until it’s too late.