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Accidental advocates

I was back at MSK yesterday for chemo #18. My liver enzymes are creeping up, but Dr Kemeny watches them carefully, and I was relieved when she approved me for a normal round of systemic chemo and a slightly reduced dose in the pump.

It takes about two hours to mix the chemo, so nearby I’ve discovered an authentic French bistro, where it’s not uncomfortable to linger and eat my lunch alone as I wait. The first time I visited, I felt obliged to pre-explain my weird order: my iron levels are low, and I need to eat something to help with that before I head into chemo.

When I order escargot, the waiter nods his approval. Then I add foie gras, and he frowns in concern. Yes, lots of iron, he confirms, but also cholesterol. Is cholesterol ok for me? Am I sure? I tell him it is; and I smile at this very French waiter wanting to be certain I’m ordering something healthy enough for lunch.

The escargot is some of the best I’ve ever had, and I enjoy the foie gras, too. I’m only vaguely sad I can’t have a glass of wine. When I’m done, I thank him for a special lunch, as it truly has been.

He wishes me good health and good luck—fervently, and twice.

The world is full of these “accidental advocates,” and each time I recognize one, I am surprised and delighted all over again: the server with whom we chatted a few months back who wrote a prayer for me on our box of leftovers. Per ran into her again the other week; she told him I was still on her prayer list. The mom of one of Delaney’s early elementary friends, someone I barely knew at diagnosis, who now bakes muffins and brings dinner and checks in regularly with specific offers of help. The team at ‪Flaco’s Tacos‬ who included free churros and a note when they noticed my GrubHub order was going to an infusion room. The work colleagues—some from over a decade ago—who have opened their NY homes to us after my surgeries. The relatives of our ex-spouses, who support me as they would family, in spite of painful divorces, and even as they struggle with exactly what to call me as they offer their prayers aloud (“I settled on stepdaughter-in-law; that felt right enough”). And the friends of friends, people I never knew in real life, who actively and insightfully comment and message and pray, and help me along my journey in ways I never expected.

I am stunned, too, by those who have shown up from my past—they’ve heard what’s happening and are back to support me: with a note, a smoothie, a care package. Not to mention all the friends and family who have been here from the start and just keep showing up and showing up: with texts, with beautiful homemade meals, with invitations to tempting lunches to keep me eating. And with the patience to let me complain when that’s what I really need to do. (I suppose they aren’t actually accidental, but advocates nonetheless.)

I am overwhelmed by kindnesses.

In the MSK waiting room, someone overhears me mention I should have eaten breakfast. She follows me to the coffee machine to offer me a selection of trail mix. Back at our seats, we strike up a chat, and are soon joined by a couple nearby. The woman, a patient, was the doppelgänger of my sister-in-law Lisa, in both appearance and spirit; she seems uncrushable. She isn’t operable, or a candidate for the pump, but I am able to offer two thoughts about a medication and a surgeon that might be able to help her. And I tell her about my favorite book, the one my therapist recommended.

Hours later, as I am heading into chemo, she tells me with tears in her eyes that she had recently given up all hope and thanks me for restoring it. I cry a little, too.

The truth is, you never know who’s having a rough day - or a rough life—and could use an accidental advocate.

Whether accidental or purposeful, I’m thankful for my literally hundreds of advocates who power me along: with love, with stars, with prayers and wishes and acts that may seems small but which swell with so much meaning. If you’re reading this, chances are very good you’re one—so thank you.

You’ve helped make my worst year the best one yet.

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