The moment a doctor says “We have bad news” is life changing. For me, time stopped. I couldnt walk. I couldnt breathe. Luckily I was with my boyfriend, because I would have passed out otherwise.
But then I thought: I am a strong woman. I have resources to get good treatment, so why not me? Perhaps, better me than some single mother of three kids who is working three jobs. I know I can handle this.
It was very important for me to keep my diagnosis under the radar, even from the cast and crew of The Sopranos, because well-meaning people would have driven me crazy asking, “How are you feeling?” I would have wanted to say, “Im scared, I dont feel so good, and my hair is falling out
My good friend, Ilene Landress, the shows producer, kept things quiet by working my schedule around my treatments. With the cancer a secret, I bucked up, put on my Carmela fingernails, and was ready to work.
I take very good care of myself (mostly because I didnt many years ago), and that served me well during chemo. Running every day made me feel calm and strong, even as my self-image suffered from my hair falling out. Id wear all kinds of crazy little hats with hair attachments. Id even wear them to bed so I wouldnt be frightened if I walked by a mirror before I was really awake. I gained weight, too, from eating fatty food, the only stuff I could tolerate on the days I was really nauseated.
When the cancer went into remission, I was relieved, of course, but it was also strangely depressing. As long as youre showing up at a cancer hospital every week, you know someone has an eye on you. When they say “OK, good luck,” it occurs to you youre really on your own, and its a bit nerve-racking.
Then around February 2004 when I realized cancer wasnt going to kill me, the answer was clear. For years Id been waiting to start a family, but surviving cancer has a way of making you reprioritize. I was 40. And I was single. But it was time. So I began the adoption process.
I did wonder if it was really fair to be adopting when I wasnt sure the cancer wouldnt come back. But every cell in my body needed and wanted to be a mother.
And when this boy, Anderson, who is so magnificent and who looks so much like me, was born in January 2005, I thought, Maybe this is the way my life is supposed to have turned out.
Obviously, it wasnt meant for me to die of cancer at 40. Every day my life surprises me, just like my cancer diagnosis surprised me. But you roll with it. Thats our job as humans.