The first few days of India have been mostly ones of orientation. Orienting my body to a time zone that’s 10.5 hours ahead; my mind to the fact that after months of anticipation, I’m finally here. It’s a rainy Sunday in Delhi and the first full day that the entire tribe is here. We’ve met each other previously via Facebook and email and in my case, a quick dinner in NYC, but today is the first time we are all physically present as a group.
And what a group we are. One of the things that I have most looked forward to about this trip is this meeting. From very early on my diagnosis, I recognized that cancer looks very different on each and every person it touches. It’s a word, a very broad one, and while its impact can be as different as night and day—or more appropriately I guess, life or death—it is something that indelibly connects you to everyone else that’s had the misfortune to know it.
My cancer makes me feel almost sheepish about being here. I had a relatively easy time. My iron cast stomach made physical illness a rarity, with constant sleepiness the biggest side affect. Maybe I partially have amnesia of symptoms—radiation was pretty awful—but looking back, I remember my year as one surrounded by loads of amazing support and love and a plethora of kick ass gifts. I am one of the lucky ones, my experience shaping for the better and blessing with enough momma/sis sis loving to last a lifetime. (Not really, I could always use more of that.)
Not everyone here has had that same experience. There’s stage 4ers, reoccurring cancers (one woman—possibly the bravest woman I’ve ever encountered, has dealt with cancer four separate times), people who have trekked this journey without insurance (which I still can’t wrap my head around), and those whose treatments spanned five or more years. All very different than my cut and dry with a new set of rack cancer.
It’s odd though. Because while we have spent a lot of time talking about our individual journeys with cancer, the evils of Tamoxifen, menopause and insurance companies, I keep forgetting that everyone has had cancer too. Instead, it’s the martial artist/kick boxer with the amazing tattoo with whom I feel an even more amazing sense of kinship. Or the storyteller from LA that volunteered with elephants in Thailand or the incredibly in-touch yogi from San Francisco or the girl who knows where Mandeville is because she grew up in Louisiana too. Cancer is the part of our story that brought us all to this magical and mystical place, but it is only part of our story.
Our volunteer placements start on Tuesday and I’m looking forward to finally getting started. I know it’s going to be a lot to handle both physically and emotionally, but I can already sense that there are a lot of good hearts that can help me through the processing I’ll need on the other side.
I know I speak for us all when I say India is going to be a great addition to our collective stories. A story that extends way beyond “I have cancer.”