17 years ago today…it was a Tuesday morning, just like today. Not gloomy or rainy like today, but incredibly sunny with clear skies. I left our tiny apartment downtown, like every weekday morning for the past 3 months, and traveled to my office in Times Square. Just an ordinary day. I was sitting at my desk, when a co-worker came in to say that a plane hit the World Trade Center. I tried to load the news station online, but all I could see was a smoking tower. He went downstairs to the Broadway League, and called up – another plane. Then minutes later…a tower fell, then the other. We scrambled to connect with all of the actors we were to be transporting to Connecticut that day, one of which was my best friend. I tried to contact my family in Louisiana, only to touch base with my dad for a couple of minutes. We all tried to make sense out of the unknown, afraid of staying and of leaving.
It wouldn’t be until hours later when I met up with my then fiance in the Village, and we slowly made our decent back to our apartment downtown. The smoke billowing above all other buildings was our target direction. The weeks following included walking miles to and from that apartment. No subway service, three police blockades, proving that we lived there every time we encountered a group of armed officers with machine guns. Each step closer to what we called home smelled like another world. The smell for months afterwards is something that I will never forget. I don’t have to close my eyes to remember that smell. Who knows what it was. Well, we all know what is was, but couldn’t think about it. We were just trying to get by. To survive.
10 years later I would be diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. Extremely aggressive, estrogen receptive. 15 tumors, 8 out of 24 lymph nodes testing positive, on the verge of spreading throughout my entire body. Complete double mastectomy, 4.5 months of chemo, 6 weeks of radiation. I tested negative for all of the possible cancer genes, and am told to blame it on just dumb luck.
But what if my dumb luck was more than just finding the disease that knows no prejudice on a whim, a mere self-exam. What if it was because I walked towards that billowing cloud of smoke day in and day out. That’s right. Several weeks ago, I was told that I’m eligible for 9/11 compensation due to my cancer. And foolishness ensues, given that I shredded all of my paperwork this past summer in the midst of a full on purge. That’s right, it’s all gone.
Ironically, I now work mere blocks away from the new World Trade Center. I see it standing over me every time I leave my office building, sometimes several times a day. It’s my new reminder. For the past 6 years, since I’ve been told I was cancer-free, I’ve pondered. What if I didn’t smoke during my college years? Do I drink too much? (I dismissed that one before the thought barely formed, as I sip my 2nd cocktail of the evening.) Could I have done something differently so that I didn’t put my family through that year of hell?
As you can imagine, I’ve been contemplating the past couple of weeks on how far I want to go with this. The PTSD of my diagnosis, treatment and recovery is real, and comes back in waves, a constant rollercoaster. Survivor guilt is real in more ways than one. And now, it’s a whole new type of PTSD…and guilt. So today, I will remember. I will remember all of the victims, living and deceased. I will never forget, as it’s a part of me, and forever will be.
Then we’ll all wake up tomorrow and start all over again.