Photo: Courtesy of Dana Cowin
When I told my mother I had stage III breast cancer that would require chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes, radiation, and breast reconstruction, she couldn't believe it. At 78 she had almost never been in the hospital except for childbirth. How could her daughter have cancer? She seemed practically indignant, as if her gene pool had been insulted. This annoying response was followed by a more characteristically upbeat one: For every bad thing, she said, we'll make sure there's a good thing. My mother doesn't look for the silver lining; she looks for the platinum. And as her 47-year-old daughter, I am much the same, so much so that a friend once called me "pathologically positive." So, to counterbalance the misery of cancer treatments, I began to throw a series of parties.
The first was for my staff. I'm the editor-in-chief of Food & Wine magazine, and I wanted to make it clear that this cancer business was going to be okay for them. I invited everyone to our wine room, under the guise of a tasting. They arrived to find bottles of pink Champagne and trays of pink-frosted cupcakes. Before I stood to speak, my heart was pounding. Could I really do this? I raised my glass and said something like "I think you all know it's Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I certainly do: I've been diagnosed with breast cancer." People looked surprised, confused, uncomfortable, sad…. But I didn't stop talking, in my pathologically positive way, until the mood lightened.
The second party was the brainchild of my oncology nurse, Matt, who asked if I was going to mark the midpoint of my four months of chemotherapy. I loved the idea: It would give me something to look forward to, which is important when you're feeling alternately nauseated, exhausted, anxious, preoccupied, and occasionally absolutely normal. I was sick of thinking about cancer. I'd be sitting in the subway, wondering who else had the disease. I'd scan hairlines for bad wigs. I'd worry about getting a cold, which could force me to miss my treatment. Once I decided to have a party, though, I could stop obsessing about cancer and start focusing on guest lists, decorations, food.