There is absolutely no doubt that getting cancer changed my life. I learned never to take the simplest things in life for granted—like ordering a coffee at a Dunkin Donuts drive-thru, taking the dog for a walk, or waking up and being able to dress myself and go to work. But what about the other lessons—the ones that should have stayed with me for a lifetime, but have gradually, but steadily slipped away?
When I first got sick, I became almost saint-like for a while because I was so humbled by this catastrophic illness. I had always been a good person but, truth-be-told, not always the nicest one. I was snarky, made critical comments about others behind their backs (never brave enough to do it face-to-face) and got a lot of laughs from friends and acquaintances in the process, which only fueled the fire.
My father, Henry Q. Gallishaw, Esq., as he liked to call himself (although he was not a lawyer or a college graduate), had the same cryptic sense of humor as mine, and my mother didn’t appreciate it. “I don’t think your father is one bit funny because his kind of humor belittles other people,” she would say. “And I don’t like that.”
Mom was right, and yet I found the cynical observations of Henry Q. Gallishaw absolutely hysterical, which is probably why, either through nature or nurture, I—his misguided spawn— had taken on many of his ways.”
However, in October of 2008, when I was diagnosed with a brain tumor and faced with the prospect of my imminent demise, guilt and self-loathing rode in like a team of Budweiser Clydesdales. I realized the error of my ways, and promised God that if he let me live—gave me just one more chance—I would change. I would be a better person. The Joan Rivers in me would be forever banished and only the Mother Theresa would remain.
And I kept my word during the early months of my illness when I was too weak to concentrate on anything but breathing. But as time passed and I started feeling better, the “old me” began slowly and methodically worming its way back. When the Angel of Death departed my side to address more immediate duties, the oath of good behavior I had made to the Almighty seemed more like a goal or a wish—rather than a solemn promise.
Gradually, I began noticing things about others that were impossible to ignore— things like pants that were hiked up to someone’s armpits, BO so strong it could curl your hair, and a multi-bellied guy wearing a red thong at the Lighthouse beach.
“Look at that Michelin Tire man,” I whispered to Al, who sat beside me on a wooden bench thumbing through an issue of Auto Trader. “He’s wearing a freaking thong and you can’t even see it. What the hell is he thinking?”
“Shh,” whispered my kinder, more tolerant husband, who, didn’t even look up from his reading to witness the spectacle before him, although a smile was slowly tugging at the corners of his mouth. “You’re being Henry Gallishaw.”
Meanwhile, just hours before these remarks about the Michelin Man had escaped my lips, I had squeezed my own plus-size body into a “Just for Us” woman’s bathing suit that constricts my breathing to the point that all I can do is float. So to say that my assessment of the gentleman on the beach was the pot calling the kettle black is pretty spot on.
So why did I have to say it then? What about my sacred promise? What about cancer making me a better person?
But seriously—what about that guy in the red thong? What was he thinking?
Sainthood is short-lived. At least it was for me.