I had an epiphany yesterday


Donna-Lee Lista
Donna-Lee Lista

I had an epiphany yesterday. We had the first (PA chapter) lung cancer summit with the National Lung Cancer Partnership (which was great, by the way). I am on the board and was asked to speak about lung cancer awareness. This was the first time I have been able to attend any event for the NLCP since my mother became gravely ill and passed away in June. But it was time to get back to business, lung cancer business, that is. After all, I am a lung cancer survivor, right?

Well I get there 8:30 am on a Saturday in August hoping I don’t hit shore traffic. My mind is wandering a bit; I’m thinking why the heck we are having this on a Saturday at 8:30 in the morning in August? I register, put my nametag on, and go about chatting with everyone. I just happen to look down at my name tag which said, “Board Presenter.” It seems to be a generic title. I mean it doesn’t say, “Board Member,” or “Lung Cancer Awareness Presenter,” either of which would be correct. I happened to notice one or two other people’s and one said, “Survivor” and another said “Advocate.” I was thinking, unlike mine, those are clear and to the point.”

We go in and one of the first things they do is introduce the survivors. I turned in my chair to see who was standing up, and then they called my name. For a split second I was caught off guard. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks; I had honestly forgotten that I too am a lung cancer survivor. My nametag didn’t say, “Survivor” and I didn’t notice! I was paying more attention to what my nametag did say, than to what it didn’t. It was such a funny feeling. Is 5 ½ years the point where it doesn’t completely define you anymore? Or is that just my own point? And would it have been so, if I hadn’t gotten so involved in lung cancer advocacy work, and I now see myself more as an advocate than a survivor? I couldn’t answer these questions, but then I remembered something similar to this that happened to me about a year ago.

I am a born and bred New York girl. When I said lets go to the city, I meant NYC. I thought it was the best place in the world; Yankees were the greatest, etc. Well, 29 years ago I met a Philly/South Jersey boy (in Colorado of all places), and he would always say that New York wasn’t as great as I thought and that New Yorkers were all full of themselves, and we would bicker back and forth. Despite this divide, love found a way and we got married. We lived in few different states, Texas, Oklahoma, and Delaware. Finally, 14 years ago we decide to move up this way, and we ended up in the suburbs of Philadelphia. By now we have a 10-year-old and a 2-year-old. As years go by, I started to notice that my kids were genuinely rooting for the Philly teams, so I suggested we all go to a baseball game to see the new Yankee stadium. They looked at me like I had two heads, and said, “Why would you think we want to go to a Yankee game? We’ll go to a Phillies game though.” My husband looked over their heads at me and just smiled. OMG, they were Philadelphians, when did this happen?

Although I felt betrayed by the very people I had given life to, I remind myself, “I am a New Yorker.” I persevered. I was odd man out, but that was ok. Of course as time went on, I wanted to spend time with them and slowly started to watch the Phillies when they did. I found myself getting interested and liking the team, same with the Eagles, same with cheese steaks (which when I first tasted, I thought were the most disgusting greasy things I had ever had) soft pretzels, and Wawa. I even started saying things like, “Let’s go into the city for dinner” and was referring to Center City.

Finally, the light bulb went off in my head when my sister’s family and brother’s family were visiting my mom in her hospital room here in Pennsylvania and I walked in and saw all four nephews in NY Yankee hats. They were trying to get “the game” on the hospital TV. As I looked at them they said, what is wrong with this TV we can’t find “the game.” I said “the game” isn’t on until later today. They said “No, it is on now.” I said, “The PHILLIES game isn’t on until later, don’t you guys know people here don’t care about the Yankee’s game? Boy, you Yankee fans are obnoxious, thinking everyone everywhere wants to see your game”. Just as I said it I realized and so did my family, I’m not a New Yorker anymore. I am a Philadelphian. I couldn’t believe it! When did it happen? When did my identity morph?

I had the same feeling yesterday, when I realized I didn’t identify solely as a survivor. I did have lung cancer, I am a survivor, but it doesn’t have to define my entire existence. There are so many other things I am, and all of them will direct me to the next chapter in my life. Lung cancer is not my final identity; it was just so earth-shattering I couldn’t imagine moving past it, but maybe it is possible to move back and forth through the looking glass? Wow, what a wild ride life can be. Speaking of rides, I have to wrap this up because we are going to get cheesesteaks at Mama’s and then catching “the game.” GO PHILLIES!