What is real pain?
I’m on the corner of Colfax and Broadway listening to a woman talk about what it’s like to live with cancer for 23 years.
The last ray of sun has just disappeared behind the mountains to the west, meaning that daylight’s single-digit temperatures have now dipped below zero.
Along with about 20 others, I’m waiting in the cold for the 15 bus.
I’m wearing my warmest winter coat, but my hat has flimsy ear flaps that let the wind in, and I’ve left my scarf at home. Going mitten-less is out of the question, so I can’t hold a book. Instead, I’m listening to This American Life episode #425, titled “Slow to React.”
I’m on episode’s final act, which is called “I’m Still Here.” Katherine Russell Rich was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1988. She was given two years to live. She is still alive and not in remission.
“If something really terrible happens,” I hear Katherine say through my headphones, “you can think, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to kill myself,’ but you can’t even think that [with cancer] because that’s the whole problem. Your body is killing itself.”
My feet ache, and I rock side to side to try to get more blood flowing to them. Regional and limited-route buses pass by. The 15 does not.
“I long ago gave up the thought of cured. ‘Cured’ isn’t in my vocabulary.”
There are tense knots in my stomach from shivering. My teeth hurt. I sink deeper into my coat collar.
“How do I live a life after planning to die? I have to argue myself back into life a lot.”
The final act ends. Upbeat music filters in, as Ira Glass’ familiar voice runs through the show credits. I lift my head to see a bus pulling around the corner, its marquee glowing in the clear, cold air: 15.
My pain is over.