There were ten of us seated around the table in my favorite restaurant including two friends from high school, two from my college days, a mentor from my teaching career, two neighbors, a teaching colleague, myself and my daughter. This was a dinner party I never thought I’d be hosting. I had been thinking about it for a while as I sought a way to thank all these people for helping me get through my cancer ordeal which began last summer. I was finally in the post-treatment limbo of eight weeks of waiting until I could be retested to see how I fared. It was a challenging time which left me with altogether too much time to think about myself and my situation. I imagined a dinner party with caring friends would be the most positive thing I could do at this juncture in my life.
After weeks of ruminating on this idea, suddenly I had to swing into action. I learned that my favorite restaurant in Huntington, where I had hoped to have the dinner party, was closing down. The closing was going to happen within the two weeks following the announcement. This left me only about a week to pull my dinner party together but I wanted very badly to make it happen. I figured out a way to send e-vites to all the people who had been so caring and everyone responded within a day or two. Of the ten people I invited, only two could not attend. That left eight, plus my daughter and myself; I was both relieved and excited that it was really going to happen.
I arrived a bit early on the evening of the event to set up the table. Earlier in the day I had found some silver snowflake confetti, left over from my teaching days, to sprinkle around the table. This was during that gloomy period in January when we all needed some bling in our lives. Before leaving the house I grabbed three large white pillar candles with the thought that to end the party we would all make a wish for someone we know who is struggling with something serious in their lives. Lighting those three candles made such a difference at the table: they cast a warm, friendly glow on an otherwise dreary night. Then my guests began to arrive.
I greeted each of them with a joy I can still feel as I tell this story. I had imagined this would be a happy event, but I had no way of knowing how good it would make me feel to be surrounded by people who really cared about me. My motive for having the party had not been a selfish one; instead, my intention was to celebrate and thank them for their efforts on my behalf. I explained this to my guests at the outset of our dinner. The room where we were dining soon filled up with other restaurant patrons and suddenly was filled with chatter and happy faces. Many other patrons were there because they knew the restaurant was closing and had come to both mourn the news and celebrate its existence.
What my guests did not know and I had only learned a couple days earlier, after the invitations were sent out, is that I had just been proclaimed “cancer free” by my doctor according to the results of a recent PET scan. When I explained to them that we were also celebrating the amazing and unexpected news of my recovery, they were all astonished. We now had a double reason to celebrate.
The next two hours were filled with lively conversation as my guests got to know each other, trading stories about their lives and enjoying the energy that was palpable at the table. These women are a cross section of homemakers and career types, but everyone found something to share with their dinner partners. For me, the scene was nothing short of magical as I watched their animated faces and drank in the warmth and conviviality of the evening. I also enjoyed seeing how much my daughter, who is significantly younger than everyone else, basked in the attention she was given by those who knew her and those who were just getting to know her. We all knew she had played a significant role in my care.
As the evening drew to a close, I quietly realized that five of the people sitting at the table, including myself, had either survived cancer or were still in treatment for metastatic cancer. I was shocked at the realization that 50% of my guests were cancer survivors. These were terrible numbers that illustrate how prevalent cancer has become on LI. We all hear miraculous stories of recovery, with some sad exceptions, but there has not been much information on how the diagnosis of cancer has increased. I shared my realization with my friends and we all paused to take in this awareness. Next, in pairs or groups of three, we each made a wish for someone we know who is struggling and blew out our candles. It felt like the perfect ending to a magical evening.
This event happened about a month and a half ago. A week ago I learned that another guest at my table has just been diagnosed with a rare type of ovarian cancer. That makes the statistics even worse than they already were. Six out of ten women at a dinner party are struggling with cancer diagnoses. If I decide to repeat the dinner party next year, I hope all of us will still be able to attend.