Monday, June 6, 2011

Heading Uptown

Thank you to Marie at Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer for inspiring this post.  Marie asked her readers to share their other life.  To share that which filled their days before or after breast cancer.  When days were spent on more "normal" activities.  Life lived, as it should be, not in some altered universe where cancer takes center stage, but where it's a non-entity.

My question was which life should I write about?  I’ve more than one.  There's the one before breast cancer and there's the one before motherhood.  Both make up the person I've come to be.  

I went with a time before motherhood, before marriage even when the opportunity arose to take a class in modern day video editing.  Modern, compared to the last software I cut with about ten years ago.

A lot changes in ten years.  Careers change, couples marry and an urban working girl becomes a stay-at-home mom in suburbia.  Not that I don't love it, but the world didn't stand still while I changed diapers, and when I learned of the class, I hesitated.  Something I used to know so well had changed so much.

All sorts of negative thoughts emerged.

Who'll pickup the boys?

The class is way downtown.

Everyone will know so much more than me.

I'm having nipple reconstruction surgery the day after the first class.  Who does that??

Screw it... I went.

I took the train to the big city I've always loved.  Where my other life really took shape.  It's the city where I went to film school at NYU.  It's where I shared an apartment with best friends and then lived solo in a studio on the corner of 52nd St. and 8th Avenue with killer views of the Hudson River and sunsets. It's where I worked for more than a dozen years on BMW and L'Oreal commercials and shows for VH1 and Nickelodeon.  It's where I met my husband.

Once at Grand Central I took the shuttle across town to a west side subway and popped out on 14th St. and 7th Avenue as if I'd been doing it all along.  As if I never stopped doing it.  It meant something to me to know my way without looking a tourist.  Like someone who didn't belong.  It still, even after all these years, felt right.

Over the course of the four weeks, I felt reconnected to the other life.  I loved walking around seeing how neighborhoods changed.  I enjoyed class, learned a lot and even knew things about editing that other students didn't. That was a nice confidence builder.  

On my second to last day, I had an extra hour before taking the train home.  Instead of hopping the subway back to Grand Central, I decided to walk the whole way.

Twenty-eight blocks and six avenues.  Six very, very long avenues, possibly the equivalent of 3 blocks each, so figure, another 18 blocks.  A little more than 2 miles total, give or take, and it was raining...hard.

There was freedom in that walk, in the city that was once my home.  No one to answer to but myself.  I was free to stroll, browse, reminisce, and then without evidence of present day life anywhere to be found, cancer crept in, reminding me things were not truly the same.  Reminding me I may be able to return to old days in some ways, but not all.

I was okay, though.  It inspired me to speed up my walk.  I wanted to beat cancer by walking faster than anyone in the city that day.  Cancer wouldn't kill my ability to move, to be physically strong, so I floored it and except for one incident where a guy in front of me managed to take up the entire width of the sidewalk while carrying a sandwich, I was flying past everyone.  

I knew walking was good for me, as taking the class and venturing back into my old life, had been good for me.  I was more than the sum of motherhood and breast cancer.

About 40 minutes after I set out, I reached Grand Central, drenched in rain and sweat.  Happily, I entered the train station only to find myself surrounded by a sea of people selling cupcakes for the American Cancer Society.  

I couldn't believe it.  

I had some thoughts then.  The first was to wonder where exactly this cupcake money was going?  The second was, who else in this great hall had cancer or even stitched up nipples from reconstruction like me?  The third was, cupcakes probably weren't the best option for me right now.

I was tired of cancer right then.  I made my way through the maze of good will and headed for my train without a word to anyone.  Without buying a cupcake. I left it all behind. 

Near my track I bought a lemon sorbet.  The money wouldn't benefit anyone except the company that made this yummy treat, but it was good for me.  It was a good ride home.


  1. What a fantastic post! I especially love the idea that we are more than the sum of motherhood and breast cancer. Amen, sister!

  2. Love, love, love this posting! This goes to show that we are more than people affected by cancer and that cancer doesn't define us.

    I'm originally from NYC and can so relate. I still have family there, so I visit occasionally.

  3. LOVE THIS!!!! Oh Stacey this was such a great read..what a talented storteller you are! You took me right along those streets with you and into the station - gosh I could just picture it all. To a small town Irish girl, your life then sounds impossibly glamorous..something I would have dreamed of growing up. Thank you so much for entering into the spirit of things and sharing some of your other life with us.

  4. What a great post! There's something so liberating about leaving suburbia and "real" life behind for urban interludes, probably for all of us but particularly for you, with the hard stuff you've gone through these last couple of years. The change of scenery, and walking, even in the rain (or maybe particularly in the rain?!) are as therapeutic as any medicine, I'm sure! My favorite thing in the world to do is walk around NYC, remembering old haunts and people and what it was like to go from small town girl to city girl overnight. Someday, you'll do that with your boys--Mark and I did just the other day, showed them where we worked, where we went on our first date, etc.

  5. Thanks, Pink. We certainly are more than our diagnosis, that's for sure. We just need to remember!

    Hi Beth, let me know when you're visiting. I would love to meet you if we could swing it.

    Oh Marie, you've made me weepy. Believe me it wasn't all glamour. A ton of late nights and long days in windowless rooms, but I loved it all the same. I imagine your life to be like a Maeve Binchy novel and I'm fascinated by that. Thank you!

    Hi Wen, I can't wait to share the city with my boys. Right now, they don't really appreciate it. Soon, I hope! Thanks for writing!

  6. This is so good like New York, New York, I had to read it twice :-)

    AND..I got to tell you that Maeve Binchy's sister taught me History when I was in high school and always encouraged me in my writing!

    I am loving this exercise and discovering what wonderful story tellers we have in our little community x

  7. Stacey, I am floored...what a fabulous read! I could picture myself race-walking right beside you in the rain. I've done that kind of thing myself, alone in foreign cities, before and after cancer. It's so therapeutic. Can't believe the cupcakes at the end, and for the American Cancer Society no less. I'm with you...I would forego those any day in favor of the lemon sorbet.

  8. Stacey, What a delightful post to read! Thank you so much for sharing pieces of your "other" life. I admire you for stepping out of your comfort zone and taking that class. It sounds like the day in the rain was a very liberating and emotional experience for you. You described it all so well. Great post!

  9. This is a wonderful story. I love the sentence: "I wanted to beat cancer by walking faster than anyone in the city that day." It makes me want to hustle down busy streets.

    And then to be confronted with the cupcakes at the train station. What a turn of events! It captures how commonplace and normalized the cancer marketplace has become (along with selling stuff that's not necessarily good for people with cancer, or for people without cancer unless in moderation...). Very compelling.


  10. Once again, Marie, thank you! Please tell me you've kept in touch with your teacher. If you haven't, you should look her up and show her all you've accomplished. Maybe she'll pass it on to Maeve. You never know!

    Jan, I wish you could have been with me. How fun would that have been?
    We could have knocked over some cupcakes afterwards while heading for the sorbet.

    Thank you for reading, Nancy. As always.

    Gayle, thank you for your comment. You mention how commonplace cancer has become. That's a good word for it. When I walked in on that fundraiser in the middle of Grand Central Station, I thought of it as "everyday." That cancer had become so routine, it is now just part of our day, wherever we look. I was happy to walk away from it.

  11. Stacey - I loved reading this too! I always like to have this glimpse into the parts of our lives that are not about cancer so this was great.
    I'm also surprised how often it is that in our everyday lives we are given a reminder of cancer, often when we least expect it. That always makes me feel sad. Gayle's description of 'commonplace' is very apt.
    The sorbet sounded delicious. Lemon is my favourite too!
    Perhaps you'll share some of your video editing with us sometime?

  12. Love this, Stacy:) Cancer was something that happened; but YOU are an amazing woman. I enjoyed this post immensely.

  13. Stacey,

    I would love to meet you in NY someday! Next time I'm going, I'll let you know.