By Heather Millar
A couple of weeks ago, as I was dusting the bookshelves in our family room, my daughter asked, “Mom, why do you keep do you keep those Playmobil men up there?”
My daughter pointed to four plastic soldiers, girded for battle with little plastic helmets, shields, armor, swords, pikes, and guns. They stand in front of three microscope pictures of breast cancer cells. Three of them have sticker labels on which one of my dearest friends from high school has written: “Taxotere,” “Carbo-platinum,” and “Herceptin.” TCH—those three drugs that made up my chemotherapy regimen.
My friend found the breast cancer pictures on the internet. She brought the picture printouts and the plastic soldiers to my first chemo infusion. They made me laugh. They took my mind off how scared I was that day, how uncomfortable.
Over time, the plastic men became talismans. Last month, one of them fell and got lost under the bookshelf. I was upset until I found the wayward man, Mr. Carbo-platinum, the day my daughter asked about him and his compatriots.
“I keep them because they’re special. Someone I love gave them to me. You know Amy? My high school friend? She gave them to me when I started chemo. They’re for good luck,” I explained to my daughter.
Even as I said this, I knew I wasn’t being internally consistent.
Ever since I was diagnosed, I’ve said that cancer is cruelly random. You do everything you can, everything you can endure. Then you hope for the best. The outcome is a crapshoot. I’ve said many times that I don’t think that fervent hope or good luck symbols can influence the remission, or the progress, of cancer.
But maybe I’ve been completely wrong. Maybe I’ve just been fooling myself. Maybe luck has everything to do with the outcome.
Perhaps that’s why I so carefully keep the plastic men in their place of honor. They stand next to three good luck medals, a blown-glass heart, and a “worry bead” man that other friends gave me when I was going through active treatment. I can’t imagine putting them in a box, much less throwing them away.
Today, one of my mother’s caregivers starts chemotherapy for Stage II breast cancer. Our multi-generational household includes my 83-year-old mother, her two caregivers, my husband, me, my 11-year-old daughter, two dogs and a cat. We share our daily lives with this caregiver, who is kind, conscientious, and lovely. I hate that she is fighting breast cancer.
I gave her caregiver one of my good luck medals, the one with an angel, since she is very religious.
Who knows? Maybe the charm will bring her good luck.
What do you think?