My mother is convinced that spinach is the key to my survival.
I have eaten spinach every day this week, ground into grayish smoothies that also contain blueberries (reduces the abnormal cell growth that fuels cancer development), half a banana (vitamin B6, manganese, and vitamin C), and some lemon juice (there’s an old-wives-tale that occasionally makes the rounds online, claiming that lemons and their juice can cure cancer, and while it’s been proven patently false, there’s no shame in covering all your bases, right?).
I grimace through my consumption of these concoctions, forcing myself to take one spoonful after another until the whole thing is gone. I do this because my mother is sure that this is the way we will keep me from growing a cancerous tumor in one of my admittedly unimpressive breasts.
It’s ridiculous, mainly because if God wants to strike me down with cancer, all the spinach leaves in the world won’t keep Him from smiting me. It’s also ridiculous because…well, it’s like trying to swim against the tide.
My mother has battled breast cancer twice — the second round is still ongoing as I write this. My maternal grandmother died from the disease when my mom was just a child. I was born with a death sentence. A potentially commuted one, yes, but a death sentence, nonetheless.
I was probably about 12 when I realized that. Middle school is supposed to be for braces and boys and pop quizzes, not breast exams in the shower every night after swim practice. I lived with my worry, tending to it like a houseplant, and I waited for the day I’d find The Lump that would mean sickness and sadness and death.
As the years went by, I pushed my fears to the back of my mind. I was too young for breast cancer, right? And I might as well enjoy the few scraps of youth I had managed to collect over the years before the inevitable merry-go-round of mammograms and doctors’ sympathetic looks and pity, pity, pity started up. Cancer was for little kids in St. Jude’s ads and old people. It wasn’t for girls with sun-streaked hair and crooked teeth and a brain full of smart remarks.
And then my mom got hit with another tumor and I realized I was a fairly full-grown 26 and that sword hanging over my head wasn’t just for decoration.
The casual-yet-fraught breast exams have begun again. Every twinge in my chest is clocked and cataloged. No appointment for a mammogram yet (I’m working on accepting the reality of it all, but I’m not quite there), but I’ve been thinking about it.
And the spinach.
The spinach that I furtively bought at my local Whole Foods, as if someone would come up behind me and say, “I bet you’re afraid you have cancer, aren’t you? I bet you think you’re going to be able to save yourself through sheer force of will and a can-do attitude, huh? I bet you really think you’re smart.”
The spinach that sits in the bottom of my fridge, surrounded by loose bottles of beer and Pyrex containers of last night’s risotto and a box of blueberries.
The spinach that my mother is sure will save my life.
I eat the spinach every day, and it probably won’t save me from anything. I know it won’t save me from anything, especially a preordained fate that’s been handed down from mother to daughter, again and again.
But I eat it anyway, because the spinach is hope. Hope, beamed from my mother’s heart into my own, that I will break the chain that binds us. Hope that I will run away, just as the sword falls and strikes the ground where my battered sneakers once resided. Hope that I will live, even when the stars have perfectly misaligned over my head.
My mother is convinced spinach is the key to my survival. I think she might be right.