Fried Green Tomatoes is easily in the top 10 of best stories ever told. If you’ve never read the book or seen the movie, stop reading this blog and add it to your repertoire immediately.
One of my favorite scenes from the movie is when Idgie and Ruth sneak on to the train and toss food out to hungry families. Soon after, Ruth realizes that the problem with sneaking on to a train is that you have to get off. To her horror, she realizes this means jumping while the train is still in motion. When her best friend Idgie says, “You’ll never jump.” She responds with, “don’t you ever say never to me,” and jumps without warning. Inspired, Idgie yells, “Towanda!” and jumps right behind her.
I have decided that having cancer is much like this scene. When you are first diagnosed, you find yourself on a train that is leaving the station. There is little to no warning and you aren’t really sure what you’re doing. You don’t have much time to think about it, or plan your next move. People tell you things about how you’re going to feel and the horrible side effects that will soon control your life. They tell you all the crappy things that are going to happen to your body and you can’t help but imagine your impending doom. I however, have come to believe it really is what you make of it. When people told me how sick I’d be and how I wouldn’t be able to live my life or do the things I love, I tried to remember Ruth, “Don’t you ever say never to me.” So with a never say die attitude, the train pushed on full steam ahead.
Throwing out food, is like this blog. The ride just becomes the new normal, the way life is. You try to stay positive and attempt to do some good along the way. Maybe sharing the experience is helpful to other people who never realized what having cancer is actually like or were just too unsure how to ask. I know I’ve learned a lot going through this process, hopefully some of that wisdom is conveyed here and is helpful to others as well.
Six rounds of chemotherapy has taught me a thing or two about things I didn’t know – I didn’t know. It’s opened my eyes to realities I’ve never taken the time to think about or tried to understand. It’s also taught me a lot about the people in my life as well as the things that matter and the things that really don’t. Facing the realities of your own mortality is no small task, you quickly learn to see and appreciate more of the day-to-day moments of happiness. You realize how important it is to stop and breathe. You are so run down and tired most of the time you learn to appreciate just sitting and laughing with a friend in a way you may never have before. If nothing else, you stop taking those moments for granted because you realize, they are not a guarantee.
Cancer moves at a breakneck pace. Like roar of the 1920’s, the chemo train rolls on. The combination of exhaustion and fear steamroll one day into the next. You don’t even have time to register the stress of medical bills, time off work, and day-to-day chores. Your head is in a fog, your body aches, and you are heading in one direction. Survival. All of your energy is focused on getting through the next round. Then one day, just as they began, the rounds of chemotherapy come to an end. It’s time to get off the chemo train.
As relieved as you are to be getting off you realize, much like Ruth, the only way off of a moving train is to jump. The end of your chemotherapy journey is surgery. As if being on the train in the first place wasn’t scary enough, much to your horror you must now muster up your courage and jump off while it’s still in motion. Surgery has unpredictable outcomes. There is no guarantee of safe landing and no easy way to do it. Whether it’s to prove you can survive it, or simply because you are lifted by the bravery and encouragement of others you close your eyes, take a breath and leap, hoping you don’t die in the process.
One morning you pull up to a hospital, you check yourself in, sign some paperwork, and get yourself into a gown. Eventually, some people come into the room, and dump a cocktail in your veins that make you pass out. The next thing you know you wake up with a part of you missing.
The landing really is the worst of it. Much like Idgie you’re in serious pain. You are alive, but must learn to lean on your friends and family to help you limp the long, unsteady walk back home. It’s a slow, frustrating, somewhat humiliating, and painstaking process. Gradually, the steps get easier as you get closer. Eventually, you realize life really does go on and you will get through it. You may even come out of this a stronger person than you were when you found yourself on that train.
The only way to know for sure is to just keep walking. Put one foot in front of the other, one step at a time and remember Idgie, Ruth, and Towanda!