Saturday, January 14, 2012

Goodbye brown paper bag

I still have a brown paper bag that I got on April 1, 2009.

Who keeps a paper bag for almost three years?

Diane knows, because she's been joking with me about my attachment to this bag, which, alas, has got to go.

It's the bag from CVS that my nurse at Brigham and Women's Hospital gave me upon my discharge, filled with the many pills that I still take. This whole time, I've kept that bag in my closet, taking it down for weekly refills of my pill boxes or bringing it with me when I go somewhere overnight in case I forgot to put an important pill in its compartment.

I never really thought I would keep it so long, but the longer it's been with me, the more attached I have gotten. It's now as thin as parchment paper and has a few holes in it. I solved those problems by putting it in a larger bag, but it has just gotten too scrunched up to keep.

So I transferred the pills to another bag...and put the brown paper bag in a closet.

Perhaps I will need to give it a ceremonial good-bye.

It's not that I am fond of it. I guess it's mostly superstition: I've stayed well as long as I've kept my pills in that bag, so if I throw the bag out, will that jinx me?

Before you start thinking "Just get rid of it," let me remind you of the superstitions that are all around us. Baseball players perform their personal rituals before hitting the ball, goalies tap the goalposts in a particular pattern, tennis players use their lucky ball, and those are just examples of the superstitious behavior you can see. Fess up if you want to share your own.

Once when I was in a tennis tournament nearby and came home to change my sweaty top, one of my sons (I can't remember which) asked me if I had won, and when I said yes, he nearly had a fit at the idea that I might change, so off I went to the next match wearing the same gross shirt. (I can't remember if I won.)

My social worker, Mary Lou Hackett, once told me about a patient who wore the same pair of earrings to each checkup, figuring that since she hadn't relapsed while wearing the earrings, she didn't want to tempt fate by wearing any other pair when she went to Dana-Farber.

This New Year's, I got a little crazy when thinking about what to do, or rather what not to do. New Year's is, of course, in its own special category, bringing out all sorts of social anxieties in people.

The year after I came home I wasn't allowed to go anywhere, but the past two years I went to a party. The party wasn't happening this year, so I decided to stay home and watch a movie, which was really fine with me.

But I told Katie I was concerned about starting the year doing something different because the previous two years I had done the same thing and hadn't relapsed, so what if doing something different made me get sick again?

I knew this was magical thinking in a big way, but still, that didn't stop me from having a moment.

Voicing the wisdom that all of my children have, Katie pointed out that I had done many things differently in the past three years and they have not caused me any harm. (Unless you talk about direct cause and effect, such as running on a painful foot and getting a stress fracture.)

So it is time for me to repeat:

I can throw out the paper bag
I can throw out the paper bag
I can throw out the paper bag

...Or can I?


Ann said...

Chris has his rituals to keep me from relapsing. I understand that he needs them to cope, but it can be hard to watch some days. Having survived what we've all been through, I can see how easy it would be to stretch a thread between cause and effect and the behaviors that affect our well being.

Robin said...

Totally understandable your relationship with the bag! All the best.

Anonymous said...

Hi Guys, With Ronni's permission, I am posting some information here for anyone who might find it helpful. Please feel free to join, use and spread the word about I Had Cancer ( - focuses on creating real, organic connections between people in similar situations.

Our community search filters are intuitive and very easy to use. You can search for others by type of cancer, type of user (supporter, survivor and fighter), age, year of diagnosis, gender and location and a number of other interesting features that help facilitate communication between users (check out Dear Cancer - a soap box for cancer).

We hope that by allowing members to easily connect, share experiences and information, the acquired knowledge will turn them into medical self-advocates. Best of health to all of you.

Ronni, thank you for letting us post here. PS - it is more than OK to keep a bag for over 3 years, especially if that bag marks such an important milestone in your life.

Anonymous said...

As the queen of Superstition, adapting all the different cultural ones that i know, i can assure you that whatever shall befall the Brown Paper Bag, which i remember filled with your medicine on the floor of your car while you went into Starbucks....
You will be fine! You are fine! You thrive!
so whatever works for you, do it, my dearest Friend...
besides, there must be some superstitious antidote...never fails...
Mr. Schwartz taught us in 11th grade, when doing Arthurian Legends and T. S. Eliot, that ''rituals guard the future...." i have never forgotten that...
and your guard is finally off-duty...if you wish...

Nelle said...

I can SO relate to this entry. When my son did not go into remission in the first 30 days I was panic stricken. His odds became much worse. My Mom's friend in Georgia overnighted a man's hanky annointed with healing oil. We put it in his pillowcase and within two weeks he was in a complete remission. That was TWENTY YEARS AGO. Guess what? NEVER will I part with that thing. It's sealed in a plastic bag for safe keeping. God forbid that he would ever need it again but if so, it's here. If having that bag works for you keep it in a safe place. Whatever works to give you peace of mind is okay.