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Seeking a Red-Marble Day

I made a big mistake yesterday – I read the front page of the newspaper. As a career chemo patient, my personal “Fran Plan” cautions fellow members of the chemo club about such perils and pitfalls, but a headline caught my curiosity and before I knew it, I was sucked into the quagmire.

It was the start of a beautiful day and I was anxious to go to my art studio and work on the current “masterpiece” oil painting waiting for me on the easel (they all start out as masterpieces). Quietly enjoying a delicious cup of my husband’s expertly brewed rocket fuel, I carelessly glanced across the table and saw the newspaper. Within seconds, I learned Congress was considering legislation to remove copyright restrictions on art work, and foreign companies were poised to copy “masterpieces” such as mine without restraint or paying royalties. My head spun with a sudden tidal wave of dizziness. Subconsciously, my survival instincts kicked into action with deep-breathing exercises which clear my thoughts and control the angst. Huffing and puffing like a locomotive, I read a report about an upscale neighborhood near me preparing to install gates on city streets to prevent traffic from passing their homes, adding 15 minutes of extra driving time to my retail and medical facilities. By the time I finished that thrilling news, my skin was burning white-hot, my mouth was numb, and every molecule in my body ached.

Did I put down the paper? Of course not – did you ever turn off a Dracula movie? The next item revealed that our Supreme Court made a seriously senile decision, indicating they were all experiencing chemo brain. For a moment I wanted to be back in the hospital blissfully pushing the morphine button when the world was too much to handle. They ought to pass a law requiring every kitchen table to have a morphine button. I grabbed the nearest chunk of fudge instead, and burned the newspaper. Sometimes you just have to take control.

My computer was sizzling with e-mails screaming alerts to write my congressman about the copyright bill, and neighbors organizing efforts to fight the gates. Whoa! I’ve been fighting in the trenches for years just to stay in the “survivor” category, but suddenly that wasn’t enough; vultures were nibbling at my little corner of the world. Medical science has proven that stress can cause various ailments, and with my chemo-corroded nerve damage, mental stress equals physical pain.

I completely understand how some chemo clubbers just get tired and give up. We straddle such a thin and fragile line that it’s easy to lose our balance. Walking or biking helps me promote clear thinking and eases the body pain, so after a life-affirming slab of decadent chocolate cake I hit the streets to assess my options. The copyright question was easy – Fed-ex my spleen to my congressman along with a firm letter, which should exhibit adequate sincerity/urgency, and possibly drum up some media coverage.

The gate situation needed more thought: Tibetan incantations? They were less than effective the last time I needed a power-play. The traditional body-under-the-bulldozer ploy was out of the question – I’d invested too much in vitamins and health therapies. Hmmm…play the chemo card? I could drag my IV pole along in the picket line and it might be handy to lean on. Incinerate the gates? Tomorrow’s headline would read: Chemo Clubber Arrested in Gate Caper (risky, but might sell some books). I desperately needed quality time in my art studio to de-tox, so I called our neighborhood guerilla activists and regretfully explained that my doctor had scheduled me for a Purpleoctomy Gorgonzola – they already fell for that one before, but they lose track.

I returned from my walk and slumped at my desk, still aching and a little despondent. Opening a few pieces of mail, I found a red marble taped to a letter from a fellow artist. He related the story of a man who was concerned about aging, and devised a method of marking the days remaining in his life. He filled a jar with just enough red marbles to last until his 75th birthday, and every day he took one marble from the jar and threw it away. On his 75th birthday, he realized how much time he wasted worrying, and kept the last red marble to remind him to celebrate life and live every day to the fullest.

When a personal crisis such as cancer makes each day an overwhelming challenge, we can lose sight of those “red marble” days. Suddenly I had my answer! If an occasional red marble should happen to fall into the gate mechanism during my evening walks, those gates might remain open forever. Nothing beats chocolate and a brisk walk to clear the air.

Fran Di Giacomo was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1984 and ovarian cancer in 1998. She is an artist, and author of “I’d Rather Do Chemo Than Clean Out the Garage: Choosing Laughter Over Tears”. Visit Fran at www.

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