|OncoLink's Poet in Residence|
There's a ribbon tied in a lopsided bow around a handle on one of my kitchen cabinets. A pink satin ribbon, as a matter of fact. It arrived by mail on a wintry day five years ago in the first hefty package of information from my insurance company. There it was, peeking out from a thick pile of forms and pamphlets for a newly diagnosed cancer patient, ("bestsellers" with titles like, Chemotherapy and You and Understanding Breast Cancer Treatment). Just a six-inch length of pink satin ribbon. I picked up this eye-catching bookmark and said sarcastically, Well, look who's a card-carrying member of the sorority now. Then I remember tying the pink ribbon in a quick loopy bow around the nearest brass handle of a kitchen cabinet to keep it away from the two very curious cats roaming the house.
And there it stayed. Through multiple surgeries, rounds of chemotherapy and long weeks of radiation treatments. Through the long recovery process from cancer treatment. These days, it's quite a conversation starter when people walk into my kitchen for the first time. They ask, why is it there? What does it mean? Some visitors are even compelled to comment that this pink ribbon tied in a bow on my kitchen cabinet is starting to look a little tired and droopy. More than a bit bedraggled. Hey, they won't get any argument from me. But this particular cancer relic is staying right where it is. You see, it's part of a ritual.
December will always echo with cancer anniversaries – first surgery, first round of chemo right before Christmas, losing the last of my hair on New Year's Eve. It's hard to forget these passages. Ask any survivor. Such intense experiences can bubble back up to the surface when you least expect it, even as the years pass; but for me, especially during the last month of the year. As the rest of humanity rushes around madly buying gifts, then wrapping fancy paper and ribbons around their purchases, I focus instead on a single pink ribbon that as a symbol helps me make peace with the cancer experience.
I look at this pink ribbon, get quiet and reflect on my life. I think about the painful places where I've been on this long journey back to health. I take pride in all that I have experienced, all that I have overcome. I celebrate my growth and changes, inside and out, as I have moved through healing towards recovery. So here I am. A five-year cancer survivor. Ready to cautiously exhale. Such a significant landmark to reach! Yes, I'm still here, with a long list of goals to be checked off my "to do" list before I'm done.
Let me try and wrap it up nice and neat, with a pink bow. This holiday season, think of me as one extremely grateful lady smiling as she slow dances with N.E.D.* The joy I feel is real and it's for the precious gift of remission, for the sweet gift of time. Isn't it amazing how a simple pink ribbon tied in a bow on a kitchen cabinet door intensely reminds me, repeatedly, how many different ways the word "present" can resonate?
*no evidence of disease