I went to the Rethink Breast Cancer group tonight. It was weird.
Everyone was so nice. There was probably ten women there, all in their 30s and 40s, and while they were still mostly older than me it was really OK to be surrounded by women close enough in age.
It was just so strange to recognize myself , and to be recognized by others, as part of a community of young women living with and after breast cancer. Everyone else was already through, I guess I was the only one with, and they were all after. They gave me lots of tips about getting through, and were so kind, and offered a completely different kind of support and space than others who have not ever had cancer can offer. Both are valuable.
Truth is, though, I wanted to bolt. Run in the other direction so fast that I’d be a blur, and nothing about that blur would scream cancer. Just a blur no one could read. Being read in the world as having cancer is extraordinarily unsettling. Relative young-ness and breast cancer were the organizing mechanisms that brought this group of young women together to discuss turmeric and lemon water and buying olive oil in dark glass bottles.
I don’t want to be organized near, by, or with breast cancer. And that, my friends, is the sticking point. I don’t want someone to call out cancer to me, I don’t want to be able to answer the cancer call. I don’t want to be recognized as having cancer, doing cancer, knowing cancer, being cancer. And at the same time, I also feel the polar opposite. I want to sit in this room with women with breast cancer and drink tea. I want to stare into their eyes and see what I find. I want to listen to the stories. I want to be in a place where cancer things are made for young women. I want to nod knowingly. I want to trade stories and ask questions of these women who look like me. Who’s lives are kind of like mine.
And also, I don’t want them to ask. I wish it was already over. I squirm when they ask about stage and chemo and wigs. I hate recognizing the knowing look in their eyes, when they learn I’m newly diagnosed. I know they know, and their knowing makes my knowing more palpable. I can fool most people. These are not women who can be fooled.
I desperately want to be there. And more than anything, I wish I could un-do that want.