Friday morning, the day of my symposium speech it was 6:30 am and I was wide awake. I was panicked that I would over sleep, miss the gig and be knocked down to the "D" list with the Wellness Community gang. I suppose I could have given myself an extra hour of sleep by simply setting the alarm clock. It has been over 3 years since I used that thing and I thought it might confuse me. Sort of like how the VCR confused me for 15 years and then I lucked out, beat the system and was the first gal on the block to buy a DVD player.
So I decide to shower. While in the shower I start to think that birkenstocks and old cutoff shorts with my favorite Eddie Bauer tank top might not be appropriate for speaking in front of an audience. Even though my tank top looks nice due to the fact that I have been ummm....reconstructed which does follow the theme of the day...cancer and all. I start to panic as I realize I blogged about the speech outline and then never even re-read my train of thought. In the old days I used to memorize and formally prepare for these types of things. I used to be the type of gal that would justify a shopping trip for a new outfit before speaking infront of people. Oh, for God's sake I am now at a new low...stay at home mom who only owns birkenstocks and crocs and forgets about speech planning and fashion togetherness.
I get out of the shower and hope that cleanliness will count for something. I dig in the back of the closet and find an old pair of black dress pants. A special thanks to my winter of assly discontent sitting in front of the computer and eating mounds of comfort food proves in good form as I struggle to zip them up. Must lose 5 lbs. before China. Then I find an old shirt and dust it off. I am not exaggerating it had dust on it. But I am not discouraged (except for the 5 lbs. part) because I did just overpay to have my hair highlighted and I don't have time to have a meltdown over dusty blouses.
I drive up to the conference center and the parking lot is full. Hmmm full, there must be a big corporate event here too. My experience is that The Wellness Community usually draws a somewhat intimate crowd...room to spread out if you wish. I park quickly, re-read my outline notes and enter the building. I tell the volunteer at the door my name. She whisks me ahead of the long line and presents me to the executive director. I give a worried smile and feel my eyes widen. There must be over 200 people here, I laugh. He grins and explains that this is a whole day event and this is the largest turnout ever. My palms start to sweat. I talk myself into calm...what would Buddha say about getting all twitchy and nervous now? I beg for a Zen moment in my head.
As it happens, I was part of a panel of 3 speakers. We are all survivors. Each one of us tells a different story but in the end it is all about the same thing...life after cancer, our survivorship. I chose to speak about my quest for my grandmother's wisdom and how cancer was it's catalyst. Jim spoke about being a young survivor twice beating bladder cancer and how he battled and is beating depression. Becky talked about only having a "little bit of cancer" but it affected her in huge ways many months and years after remission. She belly dances now...with reckless abandonment hoping other cancer survivors will do the same. Dance and live.
I was unprepared for how emotional such an experience can be. I was in awe of the other two panelists. So wise, so beautiful in their honesty. And so I cried. I cried on stage after my talk was done and was sitting watching them speak. I cried even harder when I realized there was a professional photographer who's lens seemed fixated on my running mascara. I told myself to pull it together, you are still on the damn stage this will be distracting for the other panelists! I couldn't pull it together so I stopped trying. I breathed in huge gulps of air and remembered what it is like to be at that raw point where life meets death. Life gives the opportunity to say thank you for each and every last rising and falling of the lungs. It is that simple and it is that complicated. And apparently, it can make a grown woman cry.
I sniffled my way off the stage. Embarassed. We were met by a slew of audience members thanking us for our words. One lady told me her mom has been living with breast cancer for 5 years now and she too wanted to gain her wisdom though her caregiver experience. She hugged me, a complete stranger and without a second thought she opened her arms and hugged me. I am humbled.
I met a delightful lady who is adopting from China. She is a health care professional. It seems I can't go anywhere without being reminded of the true gifts adoption can bring, not even a cancer symposium. She hopes to travel early this fall to meet her daughter, I cried again.
I walked away shattered and renewed. I walked away with my coffee mug thank you gift.
I had a cup of coffee in my new mug this morning while laughing quietly. A coffee mug thank you gift. Isn't it me who should be thanking them?