As well as being a cancer blogger, Laura Yeager is a religious essayist and a mental health blogger. A graduate of The Writers’ Workshop at The University of Iowa, she teaches writing at Kent State University and Gotham Writers’ Workshop. Laura survived cancer twice.
Although I was never a member of a sorority in the traditional sense, having breast cancer has put me into a sorority of women (and a few men) and created lifelong freidnships.
If you've been reading my blog posts over the past few years, you know that I love the local thrift store. Going to this store is therapy for me. I love sorting through clothing of all colors and sizes, looking for that perfect bargain. I also love the household section of the store, where they sell knickknacks. I was there a few months ago and bought a pretty purple and white, plaid tablecloth and a big ceramic bunny for my kitchen table. It was the middle of March, but as this pandemic was just getting underway, I needed something to brighten my day.
I cleaned the table off and bleached it good. After washing and drying the new tablecloth, I situated it on the table. It fit perfectly. Then, I placed the beige, ceramic rabbit right in the middle. I threw the snowman runner that had been on the table into the wash and put away the snowman statue. Before the snowman statue, there had been a red and green plaid runner and a Lenox Christmas candle. Decorating my kitchen table for the holidays was one of my innocent pleasures.
Yes, that felt good.
But what felt better was making a connection with a woman who works at the thrift store, manning the dressing rooms and distributing new (well, used) merchandise. Her name was Barbara, and she was retiring in seven days. I was originally drawn to Barbara because she went through breast cancer around the same time that I did. We both wore scruffy wigs to cover our bald heads during chemo. We both shared our pain and suffering, and then, we both recovered together.
Barbara was one of the most hard-working women I knew. She worked all through her cancer treatments (like I did), and seemed to have never missed a day since. I was glad she'd be done with her work career soon.
When I saw her in March she said, "When I'm retired, you're going to have to come down to my house and sit by my pond with me."
"You have a pond," I had asked.
"No, but I'm going to build one. And I'm going to fill it with fish," she said. She then wheeled a clothing cart around and placed a few blouses on a nearby rack. If anyone could build a fish pond, I thought, Barbara could.
I told her that I would love to come sit by her pond and asked her for her address.
She proceeded to give me directions to her home. A bit confused by the complicated path to her house, I asked her what her phone number was. She gave it to me and then said, "What's your number? I won't answer the phone if I don't recognize the number."
I wrote my number down on a scrap of paper from my purse and handed it to her.
"Great, call me," she said. "The water sounds so pretty dripping from a waterfall; you'll love it."
"I can't think of a better thing to do in your retirement. I will call you," I said.
I've never been in a sorority, but I have to say that having breast cancer has put me in a sort of sorority of women (and a few men) who understand each other, who commiserate with each other, who, by our very circumstances, love each other.
Yes, I plan on sitting by Barbara's pond. And I imagine that they'll eventually be burgers to be barbecued, beer to be consumed and homemade brownies to be devoured. We'll have happy times. Who knows, we may even sing campfire songs around the fire pit.
The thrift store has given me much more than bargains.
Through my experiences there, it's given me the insight to know that cancer survivors should stick together. We are a sorority much tighter, much truer than any Greek one. We are a band of lifelong friends.