My Cancer Uniform

Like many people, I’ve been wearing a lot more t-shirts and sweatpants these days, as I work from home and self-isolate as much as I can. The clothes I usually wear to work remain in the closet and in the drawer.

It occurred to me the other day that, with so much more t-shirt time, I’m eventually going to wear some of them out, and a lot of my t-shirts hold some special memories. There’s one from a dream cruise that my wife and I took for our 25th anniversary (a day I wasn’t so sure I was going to see when I was a first diagnosed), a "Mr. Incredible" shirt that my kids bought for my birthday, one that I won at trivia night with some friends, and another from a music festival that I went to because my son’s band was playing in it.

All great memories. All in danger of being worn away from overuse as I stay at home, trying to protect myself so I can make more memories.

Dressing for treatment

But there are a couple of shirts that I haven’t worn in a while, that remain in a drawer. They are my cancer uniform.

They are the shirts I wore during treatment 10 years ago. Six rounds of a monoclonal antibody, once a week.

I wore the same thing each time: a pair of old blue Adidas sweatpants, a red Boston Red Sox t-shirt, and a long-sleeved, burnt orange “Life Is Good” shirt, in case I got cold. (My brother also bought me a leopard print Snuggie as an extra layer, in case the second shirt didn’t do the trick.)

Not exactly the kind of color coordination makes one think “uniform.” But I put it on proudly every Friday morning before I made my way to the treatment center for a quick chat with the oncologist, a blood draw to check my counts, and then a few hours in the chair.

My hero, Jon Lester

That Red Sox t-shirt is especially important to me. Jon Lester’s name is on the back.

Lester was a young pitcher for the Red Sox when he was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma in 2006. He was treated successfully, and pitched for the Red Sox the next season, winning the clinching game of the 2007 World Series. My wife and I let our oldest kid, then 10 years old and a diehard Sox fan, stay up late to watch the game with us.

I was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma a few months later. When we told our kids about the diagnosis, I sat on the couch with one arm around each of my sons. I could feel their bodies tense up when I mentioned the diagnosis. When I reminded my oldest that Jon Lester had come back from lymphoma, I could feel his whole body relax.

And so I put on my cancer uniform whenever I went for treatment. The Lester shirt still sits in a drawer, with the Life Is Good shirt.

An important reminder

Lots of my t-shirts are reminders of happy memories. I can’t say every memory that’s tied up in that Lester shirt is a happy one.

But I can say that it’s a reminder of tough times I’ve been through and that I’ve come out stronger.

And that’s just the kind of reminder we could all use these days.

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