Editor's note: On June 8, ELLICSR celebrated
National Cancer Survivors Day. The day began with a keynote talk from Dr. Gary Rodin followed by a panel discussion on emotional wellness and cancer. Barbara Center told a story about her beloved raven moccasins, a symbol of her future beyond stage IV cancer.
Barbara wears her raven-black moccasins at our
National Cancer Survivors Day celebration
I’d forgotten about my raven-black moccasins, still safe in their box on the top shelf of my bedroom closet. I’d forgotten about their rubber nonslip soles, the white and gold beads that gently adorn their black leather tops, and the trim – four inches of soft black fur – that hugged my ankles and lower calves.
A year had passed since I’d bought my beloved moccasins at the Native Canadian Centre in Toronto. A mild winter had given way to an early spring, and the cozy black moccasins were on sale in the gift shop. Like Cinderella, I slipped them on my feet – a perfect fit. Immediately I fell in love, thinking they would make a fantastic Leap Year birthday present to myself. Even at half-price, they were a little rich for my pocketbook. But something more sinister was causing me to hesitate on my splurge.
“You have stage IV incurable lymphoma,” my oncologist had told me. “Your only chance for survival is seven months of aggressive chemotherapy, followed by six rounds of total body radiation, culminating in a month-long hospital stay and a stem cell transplant.”
At age 64, I was a high-risk prospect for a transplant. Why was I even considering buying the moccasins? If I didn’t survive treatment, they would just be one more thing that my sons would have to deal with as they sorted through my estate.
But what if I did survive? Like their raven-black color, the moccasins were symbolic – they signified my future beyond cancer. Choked up and teary-eyed, I bought my precious gift.
That April, I started my treatment, and in September, I was admitted into the hospital for the stem cell transplant. By mid-October, bald and severely underweight, I was discharged to a convalescent home for seven weeks of recuperation. I finally returned to my apartment in December after three months away. The clocks hadn’t been changed, and the calendars still showed the autumn leaves of September.
When January rolled around, my oncologist gave me a new report: “Your CT scan shows no signs of lymphoma.”
Another Leap Year birthday approached, and I refused to take it for granted. Gingerly, I opened the box that had kept my moccasins safe. I lifted them softly from their cradle and slipped the extravagant beauties on my impoverished feet. As I savored their soft caress, tears began to flow.
Never again will my raven moccasins sit untouched on my closet shelf. I wear them every day as a witness to my future.
Originally published in