And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
Today is June 27th. Which means that exactly two years ago today, I received the phone call that confirmed that I had breast cancer. I was in the shower when the call came in, of course. Luckily, I brought the phone in with me. I shut off the water and answered the phone with shampoo streaming down my face. I closed my eyes to keep out the burn.
“The biopsy was positive, Kathie,” my doctor said. He has an always-chirpy, always-happy voice, so that, combined with the word “positive”, which is usually a good word, confused me.
“So I’m okay?” I said.
“No,” he said. “You have breast cancer.” He then told me that someone would be calling me to set up my next steps, but I didn’t hear much. When his voice stopped, I said goodbye and hung up the phone. I resumed my shower.
I managed to get clean, get dry, and get dressed before my legs went all rubbery and I went down. It’s not a feeling I ever want to feel again.
But two years later, I am still here, and as far as anyone knows, I’m cancer-free.
38 years ago, on June 27th, I was married for the first time. I was a month shy of 21 years old and I really didn’t know very much. And I was scared. 17 years later, I left that first marriage. I knew a lot more. I was braver. But knowledge and bravery still didn’t make it easy.
June 27th is not my favorite day.
Last night, on June 27th Eve, I went for a walk on Waukesha’s Fox Riverwalk, one of my favorite places. I take photos whenever I go, so I knew that the last time I managed to find time for this walk was on July 9, 2018, almost a full year ago. It’s a three-mile loop and it’s beautiful, as long as you’re not walking during red-winged blackbird baby season, when those damn birds bounce off your head, convinced you are a baby bird killer. People actually wear bike helmets when they’re walking during that time. I’m scared of birds, so I just avoid the whole thing. But now, on June 27th Eve, while those birds gave their very distinctive call wherever I went, the attack season seemed to be over.
It was a gorgeous night. I worried that I might not be able to make the whole loop, since it was almost a year since I last did it. But I did, and at one point, I almost let myself skip. I said hi to the ducks. I waved cautiously at the geese. I saw frogs and this weird thing that swam and looked like a ferret. But for the longest time, I didn’t see what I was so hoping for.
Fireflies. Lightning bugs. Glowbugs.
Where I grew up, they were called lightning bugs. I never caught them in jars, because I knew they would die, but I did chase them and hold them in the palm of my hand so I could see them blink on and off. To a nine-year old, this was the most amazing thing, and at almost 59, that nine-year old inside of me always smacks both hands over her mouth and whispers, “Wow!” whenever she sees them.
Three-quarters of the way around, I’d pretty much given up on seeing them on this night. I wondered where they were, if the weather has been too cold, if the damned red-winged blackbirds ate them all. But then, in a grassy corner right next to the river, tucked in by the Moreland Avenue bridge…there they were.
All lighting up. All blinking. Blue-gold light popping everywhere. I swear I could hear the sound. They didn’t leave their corner. They just flashed. Little flashlights. Little fireworks. Little bits of lightning. Absolute magic.
I was the only human there. And I smacked both hands over my mouth and whispered, “Wow!”
I don’t know how long I stood there. But I felt treated to my own private light show, which brought back my 9-year old self, and created delight in my almost 59-year old self.
Those lightning bugs weren’t the only thing glowing as I walked back home. On June 27th Eve.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.