Other attorneys might have thought that I was unprofessional after the last deposition I attended because I hugged the court reporter. I’ve never seen a hug at the end of a deposition before. Depositions are usually unpleasant (or at least tedious) meetings where one lawyer asks questions of a witness while other lawyers object, and the whole thing is transcribed by a court reporter for later use.
It’s not that the court reporter did an especially good job or that she was an old friend of mine. I had never met her before. But I discovered that she was my sister.
I noticed as soon as she took off her coat, after setting her computer and recording equipment down, that she had had a bilateral mastectomy. There was no question about it, as she was wearing a knit top and jacket, and her chest was completely flat. I tried not to stare, but, unless I’m at a breast cancer event, I don’t often see a woman I’ve never met without something that appears to be breasts. Although there are some exceptions, most women these days decide to reconstruct. My first feeling was one of deep respect—it is not easy to go about your daily business, especially where you go into situations where you don’t know anyone, when you are missing a part of your body that is given so much emphasis.
I wasn’t taking or defending the deposition, only observing, so I jotted down my thoughts. What would I say to her? I had no idea whether she was newly living with breast cancer or whether it was something she had dealt with for a long time. I’m a little hesitant to be nosy with people I’ve never met, and assume that they’ve had cancer, because once, I went up to a bald woman in Wal-mart to express my support for her walking around with no hair, assuming she was bald from chemo, and encourage her that it would grow back, as mine had. She told me she was glad that I was now healthy, but she had alopecia. So now, I don’t like to make assumptions.
But during a break, when the court reporter and I were alone in the conference room, I couldn’t resist asking her if she had had breast cancer. She had, and was very willing to talk about it. She was Stage 4, and had been for six years. She had been diagnosed around the same time I was, eight or nine years ago, but it had come back in her breast and in her bones. She was NED now, but had been on oral chemotherapy drugs for a while.
I was in awe. All I could think of was that she is a rock star, like so many of the women I’ve met who have also had breast cancer. They know my worries, my triumphs, and my memories, because they share them. There is an instant bond that can last years, if we are lucky, and persist even if we’ve never met the other woman in “real life” but only know them online.
When I left the deposition, I told her good luck, and that I hoped that the chemo keeps working. She reached out, as if to shake or clasp my hand. But I bent down and hugged her instead, because she is my sister.