When Maya and i dated (um, the first time around, ‘cuz you know how lesbians roll), we used to point out and ridicule all the products and services that were affixed with some advertisement showing support for breast cancer research. It became a game to send each other picture messages of the most ridiculous items we saw each week. In hindsight, i can see how this could be perceived as insensitive. At the time, though, we were solely focused on cricizing overcommercialization and the industry’s propensity to hop on the latest marketing bandwagon.
As for the Susan G Komen’s Race for the Cure, i had additional criticisms. A former participant once told me that after you register to participate, there is all this pressure to raise a bunch of money – to the point, she said, where it’s not really about community bonds or personal triumphs anymore. I do *not* like trying to solicit money from people. I do *not* want to bond with thousands of strangers. I do *not* need an audience to validate my personal triumphs. So even after I started going through my own breast cancer journey, i had already made the personal decision NOT to participate in Race for the Cure.
And then *this* guy showed up.
I’ve never been loyal to any particular nail salon before; usually i would just find places on Groupon offering the best deals and then hop around from sale price to sale price. When i was out on FMLA, though, i started going to the same place each month: The Polish Room – at 3632 West Pinnacle Peak Road, in Glendale. It was right around the corner from ADJC, so it was an easy way for me to meet up with some of my coworker buddies after they left work each day. It got me out of the house once every three weeks when i was feeling really shitty, and it gave me a chance to have 1-2 of my hours brightened with Amy’s contagious laughing and Christie’s hyper storytelling.
As we built our reputation for being “regulars,” the staff there started to take more of an interest in us. To be fair, they were *always* polite and friendly, and I already liked the place because they use quality products with their services. More and more, though, i started to notice the little things they would say and do for me/us: bottled water, when it started getting warmer; extra long feet massages, since chemotherapy had me looking HAGGARD on some of those days; and personalized comments, to show they remembered some of the things we had talked about during previous visits.
On one day in particular (March 7), i wasn’t doing so well. I was about to have my 5th chemo session. All my hair was gone; so was the color in my skin. Chemobrain was in full effect. I had my will and advanced directive sitting on my lap, waiting to be notarized after my mani/pedi. Amy, Christie, and Amy’s mom were chatting nonstop, and i was trying my best to keep up with the conversations … but i was having a hard time and could only hope i was doing a decent enough job with one of my favorite pastimes: Fake it to make it. When we finished, I went to pay my bill and was informed that it had already been taken care of. I looked furiously at Christie; her deer-in-the-headlights look confirmed it wasn’t her. I stalked back to the bathroom and waited like a creeper outside the door to confront Amy when she came out. She insisted it wasn’t her either.
It turned out to be Ben, the owner of The Polish Room. I think it was Christie who found out and told me. I had no idea why Ben had done this, especially considering how little interaction i had even had with this man in the three months i had been going to his business. I looked at Christie for explanation, but she just shrugged. I looked around at the sea of faces I had grown used to seeing each month, and they were all looking at me with slight smiles on their lips and genuine kindness in their eyes. Customers were all watching me, watching them, trying to piece together exactly what was happening. I walked up to Ben and asked, “Why?” His only response was, “Because,” as he gave me a quick but sincere sideways hug. I’m pretty sure Amy and Christie were both crying at this point, but all i could do was swallow my control issues, hide my embarrassment at being watched, and hug him back while I said nothing more than, “Thank you.”
Flash forward three months later. I am back at The Polish Room for my monthly mani/pedi. Ben sits right next to me.
“Do you … is it okay for me to ask you about your cancer?”
“What kind of cancer do you have?”
“Could we sponsor you for the Susan G Komen race?”
At that moment, all my aversions about fundraising pressure and overcommercialization and large-group activities went out the window. I was so MOVED by the compassion of this man who barely knows me that i agreed to his offer immediately.
Thank, you Ben. You don’t even realize it, but you motivated me to challenge myself in a new way today.
LINK TO MY PERSONAL PAGE FOR THE SUSAN G. KOMEN’S RACE FOR THE CURE