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Breast Cancer Stole My Bling

Because my wrists are so skinny, I never got in the habit of wearing bracelets. I seldom get a manicure, so I don’t wear rings that draw attention to my hands. And I can’t remember the last time I wore a necklace. Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but for whatever reason, I’ve never been into jewelry. For me, there’s been only one jewel that mattered. And breast cancer stole it. Long before that happened, I spotted a guy on an airplane. Back in those days, I lived in Manhattan and traveled all the time for work. I always booked a seat against the wall so I could barricade myself from other passengers. With a window on one side and a brief case on the other, I rarely got trapped in long conversations. My briefcase was serious and kind of ugly –- a man-sized box of leather. It kept most people away . On a flight from Portland to New York, though, a passenger caught my eye. When we landed, he plopped into the empty seat next to me and asked what I thought of the movie. Two nights later, we had dinner before he had to fly home to San Francisco. It wasn’t long before I quit my job and headed west. When Gary bought me a diamond and asked me to be his wife, I vowed I’d never take that ring off. Smart, funny, and kind, he surpassed all my hopes. I hit the jackpot. The ring is a beauty. Delicate, lace-like fronds hold an exquisite diamond in place, and the band is scarcely wider than a cord of embroidery floss. I’ve never seen anything like it. “The jeweler said it’s over a hundred years old,” Gary told me, and we wondered about its history. I like knowing my ring has thrilled other women and will again after my time with it is done. Five years ago, though, that ring started getting tight, and not because marriage was making me itchy. Chemotherapy saved my life, but it changed the shape of my hands into monstrosities only the Pillsbury Dough Boy could love. An angry red divot outlined the spot where the ring cut into my flesh, and it took the magic of Crisco to coax it over my knuckle. “You’ll go back to normal after treatment,” Gary said. But I was already asleep by then, a sea of prescription bottles, abandoned glasses of ginger ale, and books I was too tired to read vying for space on my crowded nightstand. That beautiful diamond ring got lost in the clutter. My fingers never went back to their original shape, and because the ring was so old and delicate, I was reluctant to have it re-sized. Eventually, I tucked it away, and my left hand went commando. Then, about a month ago, while Gary and I stood on a sidewalk deciding where to go for dinner, we met Walt. He took my hand and massaged my fingers. I’ll admit it: it was odd. But a few days later, I dug my ring out of its hiding place, held my breath, and handed it over. Walt said he could make it fit again. It turns out he’s a jeweler and an impassioned advocate for cancer patients. “How much will it cost,” I asked, cringing. I was on El Paseo a street sometimes referred to as the Rodeo Drive of the Desert. Bentleys and Jaguars park in front of Gucci, Luis Vuitton, and Ralph Lauren. Walt’s shop sits squarely in the high rent district. “It’ll be less than ten thousand dollars,” Walt joked. I hoped I wasn’t consigning my family to a diet of cat food just so I could get my ring back. After draining our bank account to pay for cancer expenses, it’s hard to justify what I call “vanity spending.” But I missed that ring. It’s a loss I feel daily because hands are noticeable, even ones that aren’t manicured. Even though I told myself it didn’t matter, it did. A couple weeks after I left the ring with Walt, my phone rang. “It’s ready,” he said. Gary slipped it on my finger, and it flashed like a thousand stars on my left hand. In that moment, cancer dropped from my horizon, and I became a married woman again. Walt wouldn’t take any money for his breathtaking work, and I couldn’t stop my tears. The whole story reminds me of the movie we saw over twenty years ago, the one that prompted Gary to introduce himself so brazenly on that airplane. “A Simple Twist of Fate,” with Steve Martin is full of bends and turns. But in the end, everything turns out right. This piece was published first on

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