I don’t have a barn in my backyard, a house in Maine with a pre-hiking room, or a Connecticut home with a peony garden. The only space I technically own is my dog hair laden station wagon. But this doesn’t hinder me from slipping into my Ina Garten and Martha Stewart alter egos.
When a friend, colleague, ex-boyfriend, acquaintance, or stranger drives you to the doctors, waits with you during scans, and walks you to the bathroom, these are gestures of humanity. These favors are not the kind you repay. Accepting help in exchange for nothing is part of the humbling cancer experience (okay the first time I typed that, I accidentally wrote “it is part of the humiliating cancer experience.”)
Still, when I was done with treatment, I wanted to say thank you for these unthankable gestures. In my tiny studio apartment I pushed together a desk, dresser, kitchen table, and drafting table I found in the alley and cooked a sixteen-person sit down dinner. It was an outrageous banquet. People often commented that my cancer “brought such a nice group of people together.” Screw that. I wanted my inner kitchen diva, not my disease, to bring people together.
My treatments stopped long ago, and not because I am cured. My body no longer responds to treatment (did it ever?). I am living with tumors in me, hoping they do not grow, and expecting that if they do, it will be at a snail’s pace. Some people look up to stellar survivors, like Lance Armstrong, for inspiration. Not me. I don’t need inspiration to survive. For me survival is instinct, logic, and persistence; a mechanism of evolution. What I need more than inspiration is distraction and delusion. I need on a shoe string budget to make decadent desserts and hors devours. I need on a regular basis to crack out my grandmother’s china and feed people. I need to pretend I am living in an episode of the Barefoot Contessa or standing in a page of Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook.
Over the weekend twenty people crammed into our apartment, cooked, and ate together. Latkes, stilton, clementines, prosciutto, pistachio icebox cookies, tarte tatin, and homemade hot chocolate and whipped cream with kaluah. People ask me what my next book is going to be about. I answer: “caregiving”, or “a laymen’s guide to the fascinating and dirty underworld of healthcare policy.” But another part of me wants to sit down at my computer like Ina, with a big steamy cup of tea and crank out a dinner party diva book. Young adult cancer isn’t all about inspiration. In my world, distraction is necessity.