A Bag for Life
And how I marked a milestone
Dear Friends —
We’re deep into the Summer of Slow, and I hope yours is moving along at a pace that suits you best this season.
I have a story for all of us. Maybe this one will find you on a lazy porch with a cool drink and an abundance of time, or perhaps dashing through your phone in between far too much. It’s a story about gifts, gratitude, serves, milestones, and a handbag.
As I write this, I’m flying home from a lovely seven days in London. Wait what? She went to London again? Wasn’t she just there in March with Lucy? And is a repeat jaunt across the pond how anyone navigates the Summer of Slow? As it turns out, yes.
This time my British adventure included a week with my brother, my niece, and Connor. It’s been ages since my brother has spent time in London and my niece had never been. Connor has been once and loved it enough to join Team London for our family foursome adventure. I’m feeling so very well these days, the Queen is still kickin it at 96, Boris Johnson seems to have a new scandal every day, and the weather in the UK is as perfect as a teatime scone. Oh and this: Wimbledon is underway. London was calling, and we said yes.
So while my story takes place in London, it begins three years ago, a few weeks into my diagnosis. Some of you might remember that my chemo treatments then lasted from a Wednesday-Friday, every other week. I would arrive at my local infusion center Wednesday morning for the first round of miracle drugs, and then take home a little box with a thin tube that would delicately pump out about an eye dropper’s worth of chemo into me every minute or so. By Friday mid-day I would drive back to the center, get unhooked, and then sort out a way to nap and recover for the weekend ahead.
I called my chemo Foxy, one of the two primary chemo lines for treating colon cancer. Chemo is always a drag, but in my case it wasn’t devastating.
Actually, it’s terrible. Ok chemo sits someplace between terrible and meh.
Anyhow, back to our story. That little pump I took home? The nurses at the infusion center placed it inside this awful, boring, black, velcro fanny pack thing, except it sort of slung over my shoulder. If there was someone on the planet whose job it was to design a pouch for Foxy, they opted for the most drab solution possible. As soon as the nurses brought out the dreaded pouch I would simultaneously thank God for such a precious miracle of science, and silently curse that for the next 48 hours I was now hostage to world’s most depressing handbag.
But when facing down stage IV cancer, who complains about a black velcro pouch? This lady. That’s who.
The key here, though, is where to confide your grumble. I can’t stress this enough. If you complain about a black velcro pouch to the wrong person this whole project of gratitude while people are loving you well can go sideways, fast. She’s complaining about a velcro purse? What does she think this is, Project Runway or something?
Isn’t it always a wonder that we can be surrounded by people who see different priorities for the same situation at hand, and then they match their talents to what they understand as most appropriate way to help? Back in the summer of 2019, I had generous souls who listened to my plight, and matched it with an array of wonders, each an offering from their unique vantage point: books, meals, pedicure gift certificates, poems, massages, socks, phone calls, long walks, texts that arrived just in time, and prayers (by far the most wondrous gift of all). One day an eyebrow pencil arrived in the mail without a note. Someone out there knew that soon my eyebrows would need some love. Absolutely spectacular.
Within all this goodness, I knew there was one friend who was put on this planet to hear my plight about the pouch. This blog would turn into a novella if I provided you with the fascinating back story of this particular friend, so for now, just embrace this truth: there are some among us whose spiritual gift sits at the nexus of style and shopping, and I happen know one. She also happens to have this accent almost too marvelous to describe, so just trust me when I tell you that chatting with her is like watching a couple dance the flamenco — fast, intricate, dizzying, joyful. You nod and smile. A lot.
This marvelous friend was sprinkling all kinds of her tinker bell dust my way during those awful first few weeks, and in some of our back and forth, I mentioned the pathetic pouch, knowing she would get it. Mainly I was looking for a kindred spirit. I wanted at least one other person in the universe who would get the gravity of the situation and join me in declaring it a fashion fail of historic proportion.
She was more aghast than I was. And then she sprang into action. Days later I got a call from her from the front lines, which is to say a facetime conversation from a handbag counter with several bags lined up for a careful look. This was serious business, she declared, and we had to get it right. The Foxy pump had to sit nestled in this bag, so size was crucial. It also needed to have a way for the little line to snake out of the bag in an easy way so it wouldn’t get caught or crimped. Plus my friend reminded me that it would need to be so beautiful that it could valiantly do battle with the terrible drag of a chemo cycle.
And then she said this: “We must chooses carefully here. You must know this will be your bag for life. This means three things: a bag specific enough that it will hold your drug that will give you life, a bag classic enough so that it will be timeless and you’ll wear it for the rest of your life, and a bag delightful enough that it will come to represent pure joy, which is life.”
She went on. “Just imagine this. Someday, when this is done, you’ll wear this bag out to some grand adventure. Maybe you’ll meet a friend at a Paris cafe and your bag will sit with you there near your cappuccino. Or maybe you’ll carry it one night to the symphony. Or you’ll stroll through an art gallery with this bag on your arm, knowing that it’s as beautiful as anything on the walls.”
And so it was, over facetime and philosophy about bags for life, that my friend picked out the world’s most delightful handbag. She came to my house later that evening to see if we had guessed the dimensions correctly. Cinderella’s slipper couldn’t have fit any better.
Throughout the 20-something rounds of chemo staggered off and on over many months, I carried my Foxy bag, and she performed magnificently. But as I’ve been living in lazy cancer land now for nearly a year and chemo free — and can we all pause here and let out an amen for that?! — I’ve had my Foxy bag carefully stowed away in my closet.
Are you like me? Do you have a few items in your world that are just delightful enough that you keep them squirreled away only for special occasions? Maybe it’s an heirloom from a grandparent that you save for a holiday. Or wedding china you might bring out once a decade. Are we worried that using something fabulous with more frequency will somehow make it less fabulous? Maybe so, but if those sacred objects in our lives could talk from behind the kitchen cupboards or closet shelves, I bet they would be saying to us, over and over, “pick me!”
And that’s just what my sweet handbag said when I was packing for London a number of days back. I had just about zipped up my suitcase when I spotted her there in my closet, patiently looking at me with those gorgeous little clasps and perfect stitching, saying, “Remember — I’m your bag for life.”
I tucked her in, and off we went.
London was lovely, of course. Seeing it all through my niece’s new eyes was a special treat, and there are still sweet vestiges of the Queen’s recent jubilee tucked in here and there. The days were full, but not over planned. We more or less let our feet and moods guide us to the museum, park, play, church, and pub that made sense for each day.
Except for one. July 1.
July 1 marked three years since I received my cancer diagnosis. July 1, 2019 was a chaotic mess of a spiking fever, doctors coming in an out of my hospital room, frantic phone calls with family, and tears. God almighty, the tears.
So how to mark a diagnosis day? Do some people celebrate? I suppose that makes sense. Do others quietly reflect, and maybe daydream about the days before? Yes. Marking this day is as unique as the mountain each and every one of us ends up climbing. Some will savor new and uncommon views; others will find a way to simply pause on the trail, glance at the map, and keep climbing.
I decided to go the place that’s always enchanted me. A place where elegance meets excellence. A place where hope is relentlessly persistent. A place where the strawberries are the sweetest of anywhere on earth. Wimbledon.
Someday we can talk about how I got tickets and why I’m thinking differently these days about planning for retirement and being smart and careful with money, but right now let’s not worry about it.
All we need to know is that I had two tickets for Centre Court for Round Three of Wimbledon on Friday, July 1st. And sitting on my lap throughout was my sweet Foxy bag.
I grew up playing tennis with my dad, then later in high school, and then even later after I had kids. My game is ridiculously wobbly, with a winner tucked in every once in while to remind me that all things are possible.
There are a million reasons to love tennis and this blog is already deep into novella territory, so I’ll just note my favorite: there’s no clock that calls the end of the match. Instead, every serve, every point, is a chance for something new. Like each of our days, each time that ball is tossed up, momentum can shift, a deeper muscle can be discovered, a miracle can unfold.
I savored that sweetest part of tennis — hope forever in motion on those famed grass courts — holding my bag for life there on Centre Court.
On July 1st.
My friend was right. This bag has held miraculous drugs and miraculous memories.
Both will always be in style.
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