Monday, March 11, 2013

The Blue Nissan Maxima (and my 33rd birthday)

When you're bald, fighting cancer, people are really nice to you. It's one of the perks of holding the cancer card (the little blue Dana-Farber card in my wallet). Yesterday, I got to thinking more about the cancer card as I hopped over puddles on a run up and down Washington Street in Canton.

It was my 33rd birthday and I was feeling great. The sun was shining, my legs were moving, and I had just enjoyed brunch and a trip to the Container Store with my Mom. I had my Kick Cancer's Ass playlist singing through my headphones when a car full of high school age boys drove by, windows open, and screamed in my direction. They screamed the "C" word, and I don't mean "cancer." I mean the one that rhymes with punt. Yep, if you'd have asked me how that word would have made it into my blog, I sure wouldn't have been able to guess. But that's the beauty of writing about your life -- surprises happen every day. 

The loud and nasty profanities startled me, and provided a stark contrast to the beauty of the day. Then, they powered me through the rest of my run because as I thought more about those five seconds of my life, my legs carried me home at a pace with which I was very pleased. 

Immediately after the navy blue Nissan Maxima drove by (oh trust me, if I had the license plate, I'd have posted it), I not only thought the following words but I think I said them out loud to myself -- Well, that wasn't very nice. It wasn't. But it was fascinating, nonetheless. 

I so vividly remember my next thought, something like -- Wow, I look enough like a girl that they'd call me that word? Good thing I got the boobs! Because makeup-less (and thus, pretty much eyebrow-less), with my blue running jacket, very short hair, and black pants, I sometimes wonder if I could be mistaken for a guy. Obviously I don't care enough to do something about it (except, I guess, get the boobs), but I was proud that even to a car of idiots passing by, I still clearly looked like a female. 

After those two instantaneous thoughts, my mind churned on. I thought about those kids, the words they said, and the energy with which they said them. And the craziest thing happened. I felt awesome. I felt awesome because not a single part of me felt sorry for myself. Yes, it was my birthday and I was innocently enjoying a run inspired, like most of my workouts are, by my oncology team's message that exercise decreases the rates of cancer recurrence. Yes, I probably looked like a startled deer to those kids, and they probably got a kick out of that, but I felt great.  

I felt great because I so vividly remember another run years ago when someone threw a water bottle out the car window at me (man, I'm kind of ruining Canton's reputation, huh?). Well, rest assured, the water bottle incident happened in Stoughton (I'm joking, but it did). Anyways, the half-drunk bottle didn't hit me, but it hurt me nonetheless. 

Yesterday, however, I realized the true strength I've built up over the past few years. If those kids thought some mean words could hurt me, I should send them my post about my second round of chemo. Or my morning routine with the kids (before Kendra rescued me). Or my recent trip to the doctor's with Annabel. I'd love for them to know that there's only one "C" word that bothers me right now and it sure as heck isn't the one that they screamed out the window. 

As I continued my run, I thought more about those boys. I thought about their mothers. I wondered how the boys felt before and after they yelled at me. They probably felt fine. And bored. But who knows? Maybe one of their moms has breast cancer, too. 

Then I got to thinking about my own son. Would he ever do something like that when he's older and bored on a Sunday? (Note to self -- make sure he's never bored on a Sunday.) I won't lie -- Teddy has his moments, and lately, we've had some power struggles with him. But I can honestly say that if he grows up with the heart he has now, I don't think he'd ever do something like that. He's too sensitive, and Brian has talked to him so much about being nice to women. I wondered if those kids' fathers had done the same. 

As I continued up Washington Street, still fascinated by C words, I passed another runner. That was the first time that the Nissan Maxima bothered me. I wondered if they had screamed at her. I wondered if she had my feeling of sheer resilience, and I really hoped that she did. I was sad at the thought that maybe, she didn't. Then again, she could have been thinking the same of me. 

Lending further evidence to my theory that their journey was driven largely by boredom, the Nissan passed me again, this time, coming from behind me. Again, profanities, and again, they startled me (you'd think I'd learn). This time, my instinct was to put my hand up to gesture a "Why?" Seriously, Why? (I wondered what they would think of my Why post, then reminded myself, again, that these kids probably weren't the blogging type.) 

As if I couldn't get any nerdier, I finished my run powered by how much I believe in my ideas behind Writing Saves Lives. I would love more than anything to sit down with those kids and ask them to write about that trip in the blue Nissan Maxima yesterday -- what they saw, what they said, what they felt (or didn't feel) when they said it. I'd love for them to be forced to think about the people on the other side of those words. What thought were they startled out of when the boys drove by? What made them get out there and run that day? Pain? Happiness? Fear? A complex combination of all of those things? I know, I'm crazy, but I really would love an hour with those kids. 

The cancer card is a funny thing. The literal one gets you great parking rates at Dana-Farber. But the metaphorical one is a lot more complicated. 

Because yesterday, I couldn't decide if I wanted to throw it (hard, like a brick) against the windshield of the blue car or hide it (proudly) in my pocket. On the one hand, I wanted those kids to know that they just picked on a cancer patient and I wanted to pretend that they'd feel badly about that. More so, I wanted them to know that if I'm strong enough to beat cancer, I'm sure as heck strong enough to keep my head up on a run after being called a bleep. 

On the other hand, I wanted to hide that card and bask in the glory that maybe, just maybe, on my 33rd birthday, I didn't look like a cancer patient anymore. 

It's kind of silly that of all of the wonderful messages I received yesterday, I chose to write about the boys who called me a terrible word. It seems very wrong to give them center stage, so I want to be clear, that they are not. Rather, yesterday, my family and friends were the center of my everything. 

Because yesterday, I realized more than ever before, what all of their (your) love, support, and encouragement have given me. You have given me unwavering energy to power on, smiling -- to see that bad things can and do happen, but in the end, the good will win out, especially if we're stubborn enough to protect that good, and especially if we're lucky enough to be surrounded by people who will be scouring the streets for a blue Nissan Maxima, ready to throw pages of a blog at it. 

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"Tara Shuman. 3-10-1980." I've said that a thousand times since last August. I'll be eternally grateful for every single 3-10 I'm ever blessed enough to see. Thank you so much for all of your birthday wishes. It was a very special day. 


  1. Cancer can most certainly change lives. Would you be interested in doing a guest post for my blog? You can check it out at It's a new blog, but focuses on cancer, recovering, and the support required to beat cancer.

    1. I'm putting my running shoes on and I'll be on the lookout!

  2. Hi, Tara! Happy belated birthday!! Isn't it ironic how cancer brings out the best in people, yet how wonderful it is when some jerk is rotten? It's such normalcy!! ;) Anyhow, congratulations! I'm another proud blue card carrying member of DF graduates!