“Snow angel,” she said. “First on my bucket list is make a snow angel.”
I awkwardly stared at her, waiting for the rest of the sentence that never came. Make a snow angel….. in Alaska? Make a snow angel …. after climbing Mount Everest? Make a snow angel … after doing one of those weird Polar Plunges where eager fundraisers go bikini first into the bitter January waters?
She knew I wanted more.
“That’s it. Just, you know, make a snow angel,” she smiled. “What’s on yours, Liza?”
I rattled off my absolutely unoriginal list:
- Walk along the Great Wall of China
- Sing solo on a concert stage with a huge audience
- Go on a solo vacation with each one of my children
- Sky dive
- learn to play the acoustic guitar that has been sitting in my basement since 2007
- write a song for others to sing
- take a breathtaking photograph
- run a full marathon
- start/finish my doctoral program
- earn my black belt
- grow a garden
- spend a few months in another country
Now, my bucket list isn’t all that wacky or extreme, either. I get it. And, perhaps my “you wanna make a snow angel?” sarcasm was influenced by the 5 feet of snow that’s been dumped on us in the Northeast.
I had to ask.
“Can you say more about the snow angel? Why a snow angel?”
“After I had breast cancer and all of my surgeries,” she started, “I lost the use of my arms. I couldn’t carry anything heavy. It hurt to eat — to simply move a fork from my plate to my mouth. I couldn’t shampoo my hair, get dressed, or even get out of bed.” This was all too familiar.
She continued. “Even a few years post-surgery, I’m still having trouble lifting my arms all the way above my head.”
She stretched her arms out to the side, drew them up in a T-formation, and then stopped. “For a long time, this was all I could do. I felt like I would be moving past my cancer if I could move my arms above my head — in a swooping motion — up and down and up and down, like how kids make a snow angel.”
I could see it in her eyebrows, how they furrowed just slightly at the corners as her arms slowly lifted in a circular motion straight above her head. Her palms clasped, her eyebrows relaxed, and the corners of her mouth extended so close to her ears they could ring the shiny gold hoops dangling from her lobes.
She brought her hands down. Exhaled. And went on with her workout.
I sat down on the bright blue yoga mat, worn at the corners from being rolled up again and again. I leaned back, lay flat on the mat, and pointed my toes. My arms fell to my side. As if a thin thread connected the tips of my fingers to the points of my toes, I drew my arms up and began to draw my legs out to the side.
Then, I stopped.
I felt the sharp pain, the tension, and the wall that kept my arms from moving further to my head. “Ouch!” I yelled unexpectedly, louder than I intended. “Oh my god.” My arms recoiled, and I instinctively placed both hands over my reconstructed breasts.
“It hurts doesn’t it?” she said. “I know. It hurts.”
She wasn’t referring to the pain.
I began to cry. Embarrassed that I had judged her for the simplicity at which she set her bucket list. Ashamed that I had thought this kid-like task would be a joke. Angry that my body was betraying me again, my tears rolled down my cheeks and into my ponytail.
“I … I …. I can’t do it. I can’t make the snow angel.”
I dried my tears quickly, not wanting to be the new kid in the cancer recovery class who has an Oprah Moment every week. “I’m … I’m fine. I’m fine. Well, ladies, I guess I have a new bucket list item to add,” I said chuckling, trying to break the emotional moment with an even more awkward casualness.
I finished my workout, laced up my jacket, said my “see you next week, ladies!” goodbye, and pushed the heavy glass door to the outside. It was snowing. And, though the cold air slapped the skin on my face, it was the blanket of untouched snow that was taunting me to fall backwards, spread my arms to my side, and flutter my wings above my head.
Instead, I drew my collar in closer against my neck, pulled my gym bag tighter to my shoulder and opened my car door. The Snow Angel would have to wait.
Peace, love, and new challenges,
PS: FORCE is doing a survey for women who have had metastatic cancer. See survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/met_her