Why a Piece of Paper Is a Cancer Survivor’s Most Prized Possession


A cancer survivor explains how her most prized possession went from being a faux fur coat to the slip of paper that reads, “No cancer detected.”

When I was little, there were two department stores in downtown Akron, Ohio — O’Neil’s and Polsky’s. My mother and I loved to go to both on the weekends and bargain shop.

The sales appeared in the newspaper which we’d peruse before we left for the stores. If there were girls’ shirts on sale for $1.75 each (this was 1969), Mom would tell me to run to the girls’ department and snap up two or three. Then, if there were boys’ pants for some ridiculous price such as $2.95, I’d high tail it to the boys’ area and procure a few pair for my brothers. Mom would later tell me when I was an adult that she took me shopping so much because I seemed depressed, and retail therapy (we didn’t call it that then) seemed to cheer me up.

In short, our family bought everything on sale — except the white, fake fur bunny coat with the black imitation leather trim that I saw hanging in the girls’ department one Sunday at Polsky’s after Mass.

This coat was the most beautiful coat I’d ever seen. Pure white, it reminded me of our bunny, Snoopy, that we had as kids. Snoopy was as white as snow with a twitching pink nose. She lived in the basement until my father got tired of cleaning out her cage. As a family, we ended up dropping Snoopy off at the little zoo at the nature center, where we visited her every weekend.

God, I wanted that coat! And it was some outrageous sum of $29.99, which was a lot for a little girl’s coat in the late 60s.

I asked Mom for it. She looked at the price tag and said, “We’ll see.”

It didn’t look good. Why didn’t I get the exact things I wanted like my friend Ann did? Their family had old money, and mine — well, not so much. My parents had college degrees and good jobs, but I guess we didn’t like to “throw money around.”

But, my mom, as usual, came through for me, and on Christmas that year, I opened the white, fuzzy coat. I had gotten exactly what I wanted! Life was a dream.

I wore the coat until it was an icky grey and Mom had to wash it. After it came out of the washing machine, it wasn’t fuzzy anymore. The fur lay in ugly white clumps, but I wore the coat anyway.

Recently, in 2021, as an adult, I got exactly what I wanted again!

What was it this time?

A painless routine mammogram and a photocopied piece of paper that said, “No cancer detected.” The “no cancer” message had been checked off with a blue pen. I was going to frame the humble, white paper in a wooden frame and hang it in my bathroom so that I could marvel at it every day.

What could I do with this clean bill of health?

  1. Imagine the future with the idea of growing old in it.
  2. Picture my 17-year-old son’s wedding when he reached 30. I’d be in my early 70s in a turquoise mother-of-the-groom dress that I’d purchased at the thrift store back in 2020 and saved for this occasion. We’d be posing for pictures in the sculpture garden in Hamilton, Ohio — Pyramid Hill — in all of its strange beauty.
  3. See myself holding a grandchild a few years later, spoiling him or her with sweet little full-priced outfits purchased at Nordstrom’s, no less, or some other classy store.
  4. View myself drying off my old body with a flabby stomach and saggy arms.
  5. Visualize my own funeral when I was in my 90s. Hell, why not my 100s?

Wouldn’t that be nice?

But there are, of course, no guarantees. There’s no cancer in my remaining breast tissue, but there could be tiny cells of the mean old stuff in, let’s say, my brain.

Does it pay to be pessimistic?

Cautiously optimistic?

Recklessly overjoyed with positivity?

Dancing around, toxically positive?

Who would have guessed when I was six years old and clad in my white bunny coat (my most prized possession) that my most cherished possession at 58 would be a piece of paper?

Life is, at best, unpredictable, folks.

That’s life.

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