I dropped my paperwork into the clear acrylic bin beside the door to the lab. I moved to take a seat, but when I saw a shaking bald man approaching, I perched on the window ledge hoping he’d take the last available chair. The otherwise smooth skin of his head was divided by a long puckered scar that curled high above his right ear and down to the base of his skull. His face and head were covered in radiation burns, yet he still smiled as I motioned towards the available seat. I tried desperately to push the image of Humpty Dumpty out of my mind.
I watched the parade of patients move in and out of the lab while I waited to have my blood drawn. A familiar face smiled my way as he passed and I struggled to place my memory of him. From my vantage point, I could see into the room, watch him pull off his Stand Up To Cancer sweatshirt and take his seat in the blue plastic chair. As he pushed up his sleeve and laid his arm on the padded surface, palm up to expose his veins, I heard him recite his name – Ethan Zohn. My breath caught.
I’d followed his fight with Hodgkin lymphoma closely, watched his vlogs, read his tweets. When he found out he was going to lose his hair, he got a mohawk, too. There was something about his particular battle that resonated with me, from the tips of my recently sprouted hair to the chemo lines on my toenails.
As he walked out of the lab, pulling his sleeve down over his bandage, I opened my mouth and stood up slightly. He saw me and plopped down in the seat next to me, smiling.
“Thank you,” were the first words I was able to speak. He looked at me quizzically. I swallowed and continued, “I know this is the last place you want to be bothered, but I had to say thank you…for doing it all publicly. You terrified me and comforted me, made me grateful and hopeful all at once. So thank you.”
His smile widened as he extended his hand. “I’m Ethan.”
“I know,” I replied without thinking while reflexively shaking his warm hand. He looked at me, waiting. “Oh. Duh. Sorry. I’m Elly.”
“And you’re here today to…”
Now it was my turn to smile, though only tentatively. “I just had a scan and I’m hoping to find out that I’ve just hit two years in remission.” I held both my hands up with their fingers crossed. “You?”
“Vaccines. I’m like a newborn baby now.”
“Huh. I’d never thought about it, but I suppose it makes perfect sense.” I looked at my hands then back at him. “Wait, don’t you spend a lot of time in Africa with your soccer thing?”
“Yeah. That’s been a bit of a concern. They also really don’t want me to get polio. Did you…”
“No. I was non-Hodgkin. No stem-cell transplant for me.”
We both sat silent for a moment as Humpty Dumpty rose from his seat and moved slowly towards the lab.
“I’m glad I did it though,” he said with a defiant nod of his head, his black curls bouncing with the movement. I looked at him, confused. “That I did it publicly,” he clarified.
“Oh,” I smiled. “I was gonna say, I can’t imagine the stem-cell transplant is the kind of thing where you have a whole lot of choice.”
“No. But I’m glad I did that, too.” His kind face broke into another wide smile just as the technician called my name.
No you made me cry WHY DID YOU DO THAT ELLY??!
This is beautiful, this is going to stick in my memory until so much time has passed that I have to wonder whether I was there or not.
Yeah, um. Sorry. I’ll buy you a pony to make up for it, mmmkay?
It should be in a book somewhere.
Thanks for the plug. The check’s in the mail. 🙂
Great stuff, Elly! The details make it all very real.
Can you believe I didn’t even curse once? 🙂
Dammit! Now I miss you even more. Well done Elly!! P.S. I love ya lady 🙂
Someday I’m going to remember to stop by the post office. Pinky swears. Also? The idea of a 24k gold vibrator intimidates my vagina. She has performance anxiety or something.
It can always be melted down for cash 😉
What a wonderful encounter! I’m so glad you had the opportunity to tell him, and I’m sure he needed to hear it too.
Weird thing was, after talking to him I knew I was going to be ok. Seeing the doc became secondary. *cue Twilight Zone music*
Always nice to meet our heroes!
Especially when they turn out to still be heroes…instead of douches. It happens.
You know, you went through this monumental event in your life and it was awful but I love that it’s made you even braver and given you inspiration and stories and hope for other people.
And I love Ethan’s positivity and upbeat demeanor. What an awful thing to happen to anyone. I hope if I ever get really sick, I have the strength to be like him. Or you. Dude, you passed the 2 year mark. It’s so fantastic!
Shit, someone for sure is going to faint. That’s like two comments this month that aren’t stupid or sarcastic. Well, sarcastic anyway…
this reminded me of bush’s veto of the lift on funding restrictions for stem cell research. i’m so glad that demon is out of the white house. and even more happy there are angels like you and ethan among us.
Which reminds me! Everyone should register to be a donor! Thanks, Patty! It doesn’t hurt or cost a cent to register.
I love how you told this. Made me feel like we were there with you. My mom has fought cancer for 18 years but she doesn’t talk about it a lot. We are there with her a lot but it isn’t the same as actually experiencing it or hearing about it from someone who has.
We go to the Relay for Life every year and raise money for cancer research. We have a family team. I also love watching mom walk her survivor lap. But to hear about people’s accounts of things first hand – well – they make me feel closer to my mom. They make me reflect on things myself – the what if? Because so many others in my family have had it too. My grandpa, friends. people I am close to.
I love this. Thank you for posting it Elly.
And than YOU for walking and raising money for research. It’s amazing how much changes and how quickly. My monitoring plan changes each time I visit, which so far has been every three months. I don’t go back for 6 months. I’ll probably be examined by an android at this rate. 🙂
Awwwwww, man. Well that will be a memorable visit, for many reasons. Well told, Elly.
Thanks for indulging me and my attempt to use two syllable words on occasion. 🙂
Awesome post, and a moving story. You’re making me all teary again. Not only are the the interwebz sexiest Ukulele player (Ukulelist?) your also a hell of a writer.
Two effin’ years. Yay, you!
Encounters, the small moments during the fight, the people who touch us along the way, those are the memories that last. All of the rest fades with time. It’s the kind word from the chemo nurse, the beautiful spirit in the eyes of the elderly patient beside you one day, the funny joke the oncologist told you at a completely inappropriate time….those are the things I still carry with me. LOVE you and this post!!!
This is why you are so beautiful…You didn’t even laugh at the guy who reminded you of Humpty Dumpty…
Your serious side scares me and moves me.
Yes, it moved.
Now who’s making who cry?
Aw, sweets. You know that you totally made his day, right?
i have no words. just tears. can i hug you? i promise not to squeeze so hard this time.
First you help me say the word “vagina”, then you hold my hand and vanquish my fear of needles. Now you’ve made me feel real human emotions! I’m like a real girl now!!!
Seriously, I’m also thinking this needs to be in a book somewhere,hint,hint.
You are far braver than me, my dear and I think it’s time the world let’s you hold it’s hand.
Yeah, okay LETS not Let’s.
I love it when I further dull the stupidity of my carelessly dropped nuggets with copious amounts of bad spelling and grammar!
You should probably just ban me altogether for these contributions.
I have been reading your blog for quite a while, this piece is THE best writing you’ve done. There are so many emotions just underneath the surface yet you kept it so light. Just perfect. Simply perfect. This one has got to be in the book you will be publishing.
a moment to cherish – most of us don’t get to meet our heroes. thanks for sharing.
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