I have a cancer buddy!
I now know two people who have/had breast cancer. And one is the same age as me, with the same thing as me, a month of two ahead of me in treatment. It’s pretty awesome to have a cancer buddy. She’s a friend of a friend, and we connected immediately. There’s more of me! There’s her, and that makes us. Never ever thought I’d be so excited to have a cancer buddy. But hey, I do and I am. Which is great. We can cancer-world-make together. Cancer-buddies are critical.
Today I went to BC Cancer Agency for the first time. Everybody there has cancer. Or they are with some who has cancer. Or they are a cancer medical professional. Everything is about cancer. And that is kind of terrifying. It’s terrifying to say, “I’m going to BC Cancer Agency.” It’s terrifying to walk in the doors, underneath the BC Cancer Agency sign. Mostly because, I am now about cancer. I fit in there. I’m like everyone else here, I am about cancer. It’s a major, disorienting, confusing identity shift.
It’s odd to walk into a place with other people who are also cancer. When I look at the pairs of people there, I know, mostly, who has cancer. It’s the mother with her daughter. The elderly man with his partner. It’s the one who is old(er). It’s the one who is sick(er). But Sam is older than me. And we are both younger than everyone else. And I don’t look sick! Is this my new tribe? Will I, too, come to dress like them, and walk like them, and inhabit this space in such a way that everyone knows its me?
I haven’t read the book in a while, but Susan Sontag, in Illness is Metaphor, writes about citizenship, and about the double-passport we all carry, where one side is the healthy public sphere, and the other grants admission to illness. To places like BC Cancer Agency, where everyone cancer lives. No one wants to acknowledge they, too, have the flip-side of the passport, the side that means the body is invested, inhabited, taken over by cells that must be destroyed.
In this new country with my newly inked passport, we speak a new language, we have a new way of relating, it’s really a new country entirely. There are words in this new country that floated up to the healthy side, words that sound familiar from a world I was never part of. Estrogen positive. Disease. MRI. Mitosis. Chemo. Invasive. Carcinoma. It’s a country where everyone marvels at my age. They can hardly believe I’m using this passport. The other people, the sick ones, the cancer ones, I think they see me to be lost, wandering the halls of this place of sick looking for someone else.
And so I breathed a giant sigh of relief, when I emailed K, my cancer buddy, and when she responded. She, too, an imposter in cancerland. We won’t dress like all the people here. We will buy hats and scarves off Etsy. We will dress them up with giant hoopy earring that, for once, will have no hair to be upstaged by. We are like a tiny tribe inside this world. I should clarify, I don’t even know K. We’ve had a few emails. We both know my AMIGOS friend, another K. But I feel such an affinity with her. We share entrance together, into this strange, disorienting cancerland.