Lessons Learned Kicking Cancer's Butt - Part 3
I did something I never thought I would do after my cancer diagnosis...I ugly cried in public. Like real hard. And you know what I learned and continue to learn? It’s okay to show emotion.
LESSON #3 the big C taught me: There IS kindness all around you and the small acts make a big difference.
I survived the Darth Vader biopsy and the doctor felt confident that it was just a cyst (for reasons I don’t need to explain because you might be eating breakfast or something). So I went back to my follow-up appointment, during lunch, by myself. SIDE NOTE: Don’t do that. Like all things that could potentially be scary, take a buddy. Clearly, I did not learn my lesson from the first appointment.
BUT, I wasn’t concerned. I sat in the exam room reading my book waiting for the Doctor to come in and say it was just a cyst and I could go on about my day. I had a vision that I would take a long lunch and treat myself to a grande frappuccino (this was back when I still ate sugar like a mofo). Instead, he rolled in and before he even shut the door and BEFORE I even put my book down, he blurted, “YUP! It’s metastatic papillary carcinoma!”
WHAT.IN.THE.WORLD.DOES.THAT.MEAN!? For real. I had to ask if that meant cancer. And for the love, can I have a hot minute to put my book down!?
I asked silly questions, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t embarrassed. We discussed what this type of cancer meant and started talking about the surgery. And this is when I got freaked out. In addition to the tumor in my neck, they would also be removing my entire thyroid, which sits RIGHT IN FRONT of your vocal chords. And there is a risk of permanently damaging your voice.
I had just started performing again for fun and I knew that the actor’s lifestyle was not for me. And it’s not like I still had dreams of making it to Broadway or anything. BUT, my voice, it defined me. It helped me be me. And to potentially not have that, was more devastating to me than actually having cancer. THIS is not surprising coming from a young person who has not lived life long enough to have perspective.
We set a tentative surgery date (and yes, by now I had gone down the internet rabbit hole and knew I would want a second opinion) and I left the office.
I called my boyfriend (now husband) standing in the middle of Union Square in New York City. He was out of town and I remember it felt really bizarre to utter the words “I have cancer”. I didn’t want to sound scared because I didn’t want to freak him out.
I hung up the phone and that was when I started to cry. I wasn’t really sure what to do. How do I tell my parents and my family? Do I go back to work right now? How do I even tell my work? Maybe I should just go get that Starbucks.
I finally wandered to the steps at the south side of the park and sat down with all of the lunch goers. The weather was perfect, not too cold, and not too hot. The park was busy and the steps were crowded. I called my mom. I cried. It hurt my heart to know that my parents were going to be worried. That’s all I could muster. And the floodgates opened.
Through my tears I saw a napkin in front of my face and I looked over to see a complete stranger looking me straight in the eyes, and he handed me an extra napkin from his lunch. He didn’t say anything, he just handed me the napkin and it was the smallest, yet biggest, act of kindness I had ever experienced. I will never forget it. It was, for sure, a lollipop moment in my life. If you don’t know what a lollipop moment is, watch this 8 min TED talk. It's amazing.
Lunch guy has no idea that handing me a napkin that day gave me incredible comfort. There is kindness all around you and you never know when YOU are going to be that comfort to someone. A simple smile. Holding a door. It all makes a difference.
Livin’ & Lovin’
P.S. I then called my friend Rachel who said, “Hey! You can say you’ve had cancer now!” If you knew Rachel, this would not seem unusual. I laughed out loud. She met me for that Starbucks and continued to make me laugh like I knew she would.