I met Marilyn at a women’s clothing store a couple of years ago. We both worked part-time, and bonded over our love of clothes. She was in her 60’s, medium sized with light brown hair. She was quiet, hard working, very sweet, and unbelievably enthusiastic about folding tissue paper perfectly when wrapping merchandise. I watched, learned, and can now tissue with the best of them, but I’m still not as good as her.
When I left my job there almost two years ago, I missed all my co-workers, but was so busy I didn’t pick up the phone or figure out a lunch date like I should have.
But a while back, when I was walking Topper around the block, I discovered that Marilyn lives right behind my apartment. She lives in a tidy, brown house she keeps threatening to landscape, with her husband, who’s dealing with memory challenges.
We’ve met for coffee and a walk a couple of times since we discovered we’re neighbors, but I hadn’t seen her for a few months. Last time we talked she was having a lumpectomy and didn’t seem too concerned about it. Then last week she pulled up beside me as I was out for another daily walk.
She leaned over into the passenger’s seat to ask how I was doing, and I must have looked shocked when I saw the scarf on her head, because I realized her cancer must have been pretty serious to warrant chemo. She just nonchalantly said, yeah she was getting chemo, and since her hair started to fall out, she decided to just get it all chopped off — like she was talking about a hang nail.
That’s when it hit me that I’ve been such a whiner about an upcoming birthday that I’ve stupidly named Bleepty, because I can’t bring myself to say the actual number, when I could be facing the possibility of no birthdays.
All this, while Marilyn, with a memory challenged husband and a cancer diagnosis, is bulldozing forward.
I hate it when I realize I’ve been a schlump.
When I think of all the people in the world who would give anything to have one more birthday, I’m embarrassed that I ever gave it one shallow thought. I think about my sister-in-law, and numerous friends who’ve battled breast cancer and still take medication every day to stay healthy. Talking to them has made me realize all anyone really wants is to just live their life normally. Taxes, bills and kids are a relief to worry about when you’re faced with your life possibly ending far too soon.
Their recovery makes me realize how far we’ve come since the days when breast cancer was a death sentence. But we still have a long way to go.
So, thank you Marilyn, you are damned impressive. You made me realize I’d be in a far worse place if I didn’t have this birthday to look forward to. I’m sorry it took me so long. I dedicate this blog post to Marilyn and every woman out there who is now, or ever has battled breast cancer. Here is a link to the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s donation page, where you can make a donation that will make a difference.