A community of street vendors lines the sidewalk around the corner from where I live. As I run the gauntlet of tourists and fellow New Yorkers, my yellow lab-pit mix lunges at an unsuspecting flock of pigeons. They burst into the air, settling a moment later. Gracie gives it another go, all but yelling “Hiyah!” as the birds flap around us.
One of the vendors calls out, “You just keep on going!”
I turn to him and smile. “Yeah, can you believe she’s 11 years old?”
“No, you,” he grins. “You’re like the energizer bunny, going and going.”
As Gracie pulls me on, I wonder. Why did he say that? I don’t know his name, but he knows something about me. At the end of my 1.6 mile walk around the reservoir, I return to his food cart.
“Hey, excuse me,“ I say. “Can I ask you a question?”
He turns from what he’s doing and steps closer to his cart window, looking down at me.
“Did you know that I’d been sick?” I ask him. “Is that why you said that before?”
He smiles kindly. “Yeah, I talked to the guy who walks your dog. I asked him about you.”
I let that sink in for a moment. I take another risk.
“You were sick a while back too, right? I noticed you’d lost weight, and then you weren’t around for a while.”
“I lost a kidney,” he replies. “But now I’m 100%.” He says this with a big smile, spreading his hands expansively to measure his improvement. “ What were you sick with?”
“Breast cancer,” I say, without hesitation. “Surgery, chemo, radiation, the whole shebang. Now I’m 100% too.”
I reach my hand into his cart. “I’m Debbie. Nice to meet you, neighbor.”
“Jimmy”, he says, shaking my hand.
I see this encounter as a reminder. I survived some pretty daunting medical treatment in 2013. But I had incredible support from some unexpected places. In addition to a community of colleagues and Bank Street College alumni who did everything from walking my dog to accompanying me to chemo appointments, I had my own secret weapon. I reached into my Child Life bag of tricks for coping mechanisms to help me through. I used play, humor, writing and videography to scaffold my journey.
This week I face a much less frightening surgery, an outpatient procedure to mend a torn tendon in my right wrist. Until this morning, though, I have to admit I was feeling a bit sorry for myself and pretty anxious about being stuck left handed for the duration of my recovery.
But Jimmy’s witnessing was a reminder. It jumpstarted my awareness of the lessons learned during cancer treatment. I have all that I need. It’s all here. I can handle this. All I have to do is reach for it.