Being in the world while having cancer is its own unique challenge. It involves lots of looks. It invites all kinds of comments. It results in a concerned voice from all kinds of folks who scrunch their faces and whine, “How are you?” I get at least ten of these comments, interactions and looks each day. At least. Just from the last few days, a few salient moments…
Shoppers Clerk: (points to her head) Chemo?
Me: (raise my eyebrows)…….
Shoppers Clerk: Oh yes, I know. My friend just shaved.
Me: ……………(why are you telling me this? Nod. Smile.)
Shoppers Clerk: Have you heard of Relay for life? Have you ever done it?
Me: Nope, I’ve never done it.
Shoppers clerk: Well, I’m an organizer. And it is so meaningful. Everything we do is for you. (Grabs my hand.)
Me: (smile sort of. Try to dis-ensare hand from her strong grip but it’s on the mastectomy side and I have very little strength)
Shoppers clerk: You have to come, for the Survivors Lap. It’s so special. All the Survivors run a lap. And it’s so important.
Me: (eye roll. You don’t get to call me a Survivor. I’m so averse to that language. eye roll.)
Shoppers clerk: (still grabbing my hand) Everything we do is for you. You are so strong. You drive me to this work. I admire you so much and I know I have to continue because of you.
Me: Uh, OK. I don’t really know you so that’s kind of interesting. I do have to go though… (trying to pull hand away)
Shoppers clerk: Bless you, bless you. You are so strong, bless you….
Me: (finally get hand out, turn and shake head and run out).
Professor I Have No Relationship With: So, just came up to see how your class was going.
Me: (This is weird. I didn’t even know this person could recognize me.) It’s great!
Professor I Have No Relationship With: Well, uh, how are you?
Me: Great! (But even if I wasn’t great, I don’t know you. What makes you think I’d tell you?)
Professor I Have No Relationship With: It’s just you have different hair every time I see you.
Me: It’s a fun trick, isn’t it? (If he wonders if I have cancer, why doesn’t he just say, Do you have cancer?)
Professor I Have No Relationship With: (Uneasy smile.) Well if you need me to teach for you ever, just say.
Me: Oh, I think I got it covered. Thanks!
Professor I Have No Relationship With: You’re sure you’re OK?
Me: I’m sure. And how are you?
Professor I Have No Relationship With: OK, well I just came up to make sure you’re OK.
Masseuse: So is your cancer metastatic?
Me: (Why do you care?) No.
Masseuse: Oh, you will be fine then, as long as you make some lifestyle changes. Cancer can be such a wake-up call.
Me: (How do you know what kind of lifestyle I have or what I need to change?) Oh really.
Masseuse: Are you juicing?
Masseuse: Are you eating organic?
Masseuse: Huh! Interesting! Do you drink coffee?
Masseuse: Ahh. Because coffee causes breast lumps. You might move to green tea. Green tea has many health benefits.
Me: Hmm. (you do know there’s a difference between breast lumps and breast cancer, right?)
Masseuse: The other thing is walking. Women who walk don’t get breast cancer. It’s important to walk at the right speed, so you become just flushed. It will be very good for you.
Friend: But you’re such a bad-ass.
Me: Yah, but that doesn’t matter.(cancer kills bad-asses all the time. Cancer has no regard for bad-assery.)
Friend of a friend: Don’t you think it matters even a little? Like doesn’t attitude matter at all?
Me: (I feel like punching the world) No. Cancer kills bad-asses. No. I think it’s too close too “be positive and you’ll survive.” I think it’s too close to blaming the person with cancer.
Friend of a friend: But not even a little? Attitude must count for something.
Me: (really? Are we still have this conversation? Oh, right, we are.) No. I do not think attitude matters. At all. (hello! If that were the case than we would have *thought* our way out of cancer, me and S and T and J and M and C and M and A and R and S and T and K and H, all of us).
Friend of a friend:….
Me: (I’m sure she thinks I’m a cancer curmudgeon who shut her down.)
Nurse: But its’ suprising because you’re so young.
Nurse: I know a woman who’s kind of like you, young, but not as young. Her son is in my son’s preschool. We made her dinners when she had chemo.
Me: Oh? (I’m just out of surgery. Why are you telling me this?)
Nurse: Yes. But it was very hard. She had breast cancer for many years, until our sons were in second grade.
Me: (When are you going to give me the morphine?) Oh?
Nurse: Then, she died of breast cancer. She was so young.
Me: (Why are you telling me this? I only ordered more meds.) What kind of breast cancer did she have? Was it a late diagnosis? Was it ER positive? What stage was it?
Nurse: Oh, I don’t know. She was just so young.
Me: ….. (If you’re going to tell me about someone who died, please be prepared with their age, receptor status, chemo regime, stage, grade, surgery decisions, lymphosvascular invasion…. enough details for me to believe this won’t happen to me as well. Otherwise, shut up, surgery nurse.)