In the Name of Cancer

On a Saturday morning in early October Josie and I were headed to a birthday party when we arrived to find the main road into the park blocked by a stage, tables and an abundance of balloons. There was no easy way to get to the playground, dog park, soccer fields or the Gymboree where the party was being held. I took a few turns trying to figure out how to get there and so did everyone else who wanted to use the park that fine Saturday morning.

Finally I found the right building. I was trying to park when a woman came running, waving her arms with fire in her eyes – clearly caught up in the adrenalin of a live event. This road is closed, she yelled, this road is closed!

I rolled down my window, pointed at the building and said I was parking for a birthday party over there. She told me I wasn’t allowed to be there and she was so adamant that I turned around. As I drove away she screamed – It’s a walk to benefit breast cancer!


I didn’t know what to think at first. Did I feel a little guilty because, after all, I’m alive and cancer-free? Sure, I’ve lost a few body parts and a few friends but not my mother or my sister. I wondered if I should feel bad because I had been frustrated with the woman. Then I remembered that I wasn’t the one who was frustrated. I wasn’t the one who raised my voice. I was just looking for parking. I was just trying to get my 3 year-old to a birthday party.

Eventually we made it to the party. We had a lovely time. As we drove out I saw the woman. I didn’t say anything to her but I wish I had. I wish I had stopped and gotten out of my car. I wish I had said that I wasn’t mad or upset or threatening her in any way. I wish I had re-iterated that I was just trying to get my daughter to a birthday party, and that I had, in fact, been parking in the right place. I wish I had told her that I was sorry for her loss, that I was sorry for her grief.

I wish I’d told her that I’d had cancer once. I wish she’d told me her experience. I wish we’d really listened to each other. Then without giving her a hug or sharing any tears or secret handshakes, but simply as one compassionate adult to another, I wish I had said goodbye and been on my way. Most of all, I wish we’d both really heard each other. Maybe if all of us did more of that, then maybe someone would stumble upon a cure for our sadness.

5 thoughts on “In the Name of Cancer

  1. Jen Singer

    Ah, but you can’t stop and talk to everyone about cancer, or you’ll never make it to the birthday party. I get it. I get the sadness and the community and all. But sometimes you need life to be about finding a parking space at a birthday party and not much more. Otherwise, the grief will consume you.

  2. Rachel

    Well written. I remember when my husband went through treatments — there were times when I wanted to scream at people — you know the people who let their own agenda trump and didn’t take the second to understand.

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