THE NATIONAL LEAGUE OF FEMALE VETERANS, INC.       - "Sisterhood of Female War Heroes"

Red Bag Lady
by Angeline Yarger

I carry my ferocious attitude on one shoulder in the form of a red Coach bag.  I'm a self proclaimed Red Bag Lady and proud of it. My red bag brings out my alter ego.  Beyonce’ has Sasha when she's on stage and I've got some serious attitude with some stank on it; I've become a diva when taking on life's challenges. I'm fierce like a momma lion protecting her cubs. Roar!  I’m empowered by my determination to push past life's challenges with my head held high. I'm prideful and ambitious enough to smile during the storm, confident that soon the sun will shine again. I heard it said once that life is all about the cards you've been dealt and how you choose to play your hand. I know a little bit about that.

2012 was my year for facing challenges and learning a little somethin’ somethin’ about life. I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer December 6th of that year and breast cancer the first month in January of 2013. Then came 6 months of chemo and what appeared to be a successful surgery to remove a tumor and half my pancreas. At first I was told the cancer had not spread to any major organs, however 3 months later that story changed; the cancer had spread to my liver. For a pancreatic cancer patient that means being downgraded to terminal status.  As far as I was concerned, I wasn't left with a whole lot of options, it was either deal or die, and the latter was not on my bucket list. Here’s what I’ve learned with my introduction to cancer, that there are angels on earth and I’ve met several of them.  I learned that I’m stronger than I thought. I learned that blessings are all around me.  I learned that focusing on the negative aspects of my life will leave me with nothing but the negative.  I learned that only I could decide how I was going to live the rest of my life.  A quote from my favorite movie, The Shawshank Redemption, comes to mind, "Get busy living, or get busy dying." Well folks, here I am, getting busy.

The origins of the Red Bag Lady started this December with a visit from my friend Jacquie from Maryland.  If life is tossing you some lemons this woman is someone you definitely want to have by your side. She’s a calm presence during life’s most chaotic moments, and makes you feel like you can overcome just about anything with a little faith and a lot determination. We enjoyed a nice lunch, chatted, cried a bit and chatted some more.  After lunch we took a little trip to the Auburn Super Mall and I just happen to mention that I wanted to stop by the Coach store.  I explained that for some reason I’d got it in my mind I wanted to one day purchase a Coach bag.  So while shopping she dared me to make my ‘one day’ sooner rather than later.  We made a deal, I needed to leap out of my comfort zone and buy a bright red bag – a bit of a change with respect to price range and color because in the past my bags were cheap and most always black.  She on the other hand wanted to change to a healthier way of eating and lose some weight.  Deal.  I so wanted my Coach but pay day was a few weeks away and…uh…I needed to juggle a few things to make it work.  You know?  When my friend got back to Maryland, she sent me a little push in the right direction, a picture of herself with an absolutely lovely new red Coach bag coordinated with a multicolored silk scarf.  She actually became the very first member of Red Bag Lady. Oh I got the fever then and payday couldn’t come fast enough.

But I got a surprise in the mail from my best friend Mary, whom by the way is Jacquie’s sister, in the form of – you guessed it -- an absolutely beautiful red Coach bag. I was ecstatic! I cried.  “An early Christmas present,” says my dear friend.  It was so incredibly vibrant that I figured, for this bag to find a place on my shoulder, the shoulder in question needed to couture up a bit. So I changed my attire from the usual well worn baggy sweatshirt and mom jeans and put on a nice trendy blouse with black fitted jeans. I even added a bit of red lip stick to my pouty lips, yes I did, to match my new bag which magically flipped my frown into a sassy smile. Now on this particular day, it was early December and I'd decided to head to the mall where I could be in the hubbub of Christmas shoppers and yeah, to show off my snazzy Coach. I found myself at the Macy six hour sale for the first time in my life. No kidding, I sashayed around the store with my just purchased items in Macy bags in one hand and my red Coach slung across my right shoulder like I was one of the Kardashians...or maybe Rockefeller may be a more appropriate example for a mother of two and grandmother such as me. After my Macy experience I found myself at Starbucks ordering a Salted Caramel Mocha. I don't even like coffee for Pete’s sake, but just thought that would be something the new trendy me would do. But let me back up a bit to give you an idea of who I am; I’ve never owned a brand new designer bag before. I'm too chintzy to spend that kind of money for something that usually ends up being tossed on the floor.  I'm a Wal-Mart type of gal and proud of it. I’ve mentioned being cheap…yeah.  Well, my bags usually cost under $30 bucks unless I find a good sale with two for the price of one, and black and I do not change bags just because the seasons do.  I carry my bags until they fall off my shoulder in pieces, no lie. But my Coach is a special bag from a very special friend and it inspired me, spoke to my heart, and the words were so pure and clear to me:  LIVE! 

I could mope around and bemoan my lot in life but what would be the point? Folks, I'm not superwoman and I do have days when I don't feel like being a good sport about cancer, but I am against prolonged wallowing. Shoot, that stuff is like quick sand, it sucks you in and will not let you go. Well, my red bag became that one thing for me that helped me smile my way through a bad day. It gave me a bit of a 'tude, which was that extra something I needed to get out of bed in the morning.  There's a rainbow that comes after practically every storm if you look hard enough for it, and for me it came in the form of a Coach bag. I have to live the life I still have with no time wasted in the 'woe is me' zone. So these days I focus my energies and my thoughts on living in the moment, I don't want to miss a thing. I and my red bag are experiencing new things with a lot of enthusiasm and no regrets. One fine Saturday, I took myself for a fancy breakfast at Anthony's on the waterfront and for starters I decided to try something different, oysters on the half shell and you know what? I didn't gag even once, which is what I'd thought was the only reaction a stomach could have after eating raw oysters. That experience will not be repeated, raw oysters in one life time is more than enough. I recently learned raw oysters were meant to be slid down the throat not chewed.  I chewed.  Ewwww.

As with most women, I am vigilant, and determined, and if I allow one to look close enough they just might see the shadow of an "S" on my person, which of course stands for super awesome. But again, similar to most women I do have a fatal flaw: my innate desire to put everything and everyone before my own needs is my kryptonite. But here's the thing, being a Red Bag Lady means taking care of you first and foremost, because the alternative is leaving yourself completely depleted, both emotionally and/or physically, with nothing left for anything or anyone else. 

Okay, so you've probably already figured out that I'm not talking just about an awesome--seriously awesome Coach handbag. Being a Red Bag Lady represents a lot more than that. It's about allowing you to be inspired. It's about attitude and respecting you for the uniqueness of you. It's about meeting challenges head on like a force of nature and taking control of a life that may have been out of control for far too long.  It's about picking yourself up when life knocks you down over and over again even when it feels like there's an elephant sitting on your back. It's about fully living this gift called life instead of just walking through it like a zombie. It's about believing in yourself especially when you feel like you are the only one who does.  Being a Red Bag Lady is all about you and celebrating the uniqueness of the empowered you.  The red Coach was my special something at a particular time in my life when I needed it most. What is that special something that makes you smile, that motivates you. Whatever it is, hold on to it or her or him. If you haven't yet lay claim or identified that special something, no worries. My thinking is that it's closer than you think. Just reach out and grab hold. Embrace your inner Red Bag Lady.

To all of you courageous Veterans going through your own challenges in life, you are empowered by the unique and fierce qualities that make you the incredible person that you are, which in itself puts several steps ahead of the problem. 

So now you have my story. What's yours?


Angeline Yarger

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