I’ve spent the past 2 months hoping that when this day came, my oncologist would not look at me gravely, and then flip the monitor of his computer around to show me the scan images he would be looking at and point at some evil little (or big?) mass that was about to ruin my life over again. If he did, it wouldn’t be the first or second or even third time. We’ve done this dance before, me and determined, thoughtful, jovial Dr. Mehta. He’s only in his mid to late 30s. It’s weird when your oncologist just held his own first, freshly birthed baby a few weeks ago, when your kid is in second grade. Getting older is weird. I’m sure it’s even weirder for elderly people – they must look at their financial advisers, cardiologists and even the guy replacing their catalytic converter with such an odd mix of trepidation, concern, admiration and, finally, blind trust.
As for me, young(ish) means newly trained, up on all of the latest research, drugs, surgeries, treatments. Careful. Thorough. Disciplined, and unlikely to let something slip by due to assumptions. Don’t get me wrong – he didn’t hang up his cap and gown last week or anything. As far as I’m concerned, he’s just right, age wise. It’s just new and different, to think that people younger than me are curing cancer. l
So I spent most of the past two months trying not to think about this day. And I’m pretty good at it, except when people randomly bring it up – I usually look at the clock and think “hmm made it to 3pm without thinking about cancer today.” I don’t mind when people want to actually talk about it – like, have an actual question. I am always, literally always, ready and willing to talk to a newly diagnosed person or someone who loved them. This is something that I take very seriously and feel like it’s part of my purpose to be available for that. I also don’t mind sharing my whole story, if it’s a person who I’m getting to know and it seems like it’s the right time to share. Occasionally I’ll bring it up myself because it seems appropriate, or because it would be weird to avoid. But when someone just brings up casually like “so, ,how’s your health?” The way you might ask about someone’s child’s little league season. Sigh. I usually just say “fine.” And smile. And say “how is yours?”
I hate having requirements of people – it makes me seem so picky and inflexible. I try really hard to make supporting me easy. But this one thing, if I’m honest, I’ve got to tell you – it throws me off. Unless my scan is the very next day, I am simply trying not to think about it. I’m trying to live my life, cross off my to do list, laugh with my friends, enjoy my child, train for a race, plan my next party, solve a work problem. When you drop the “how’s your health?” bomb on me in the middle of that, I’m halted. I have to go into that realm. I have to figure out how much to tell you. How much energy I have to explain things. How to respect my own boundaries without being rude. I wonder why you don’t just look at my million facebook updates, or keep in touch with me the old way or read this blog. Even as I type this, it feels unreasonable to expect people to understand this. It seems like a nice thing to do. Ask how someone’s health is. I’m not a private person. Obviously. But I also don’t always want to stop having fun, being normal, laughing, working, playing, thinking about one million other things, going about my business living outside of thoughts of cancer, and be plunged unwillingly into it. We’re out, having a great meal, I’m thrilled with the company, the weather, the food, the drinks, and then someone lowers their voice “so…when’s your next scan?” It shouldn’t be hard for me, but it just is. I’m sorry my brain isn’t robotic enough to just compute your care and concern and move on gracefully from it. Well, I do – I really do try to do that. But it bothers bothers bothers me, and throws me off.
I guess, just let me bring it up? Is that reasonable? I don’t want people to feel like they have to walk on eggshells. But I also know that if I believe the best I can about you, and believe that you’re asking because you care, then I have to believe that you don’t want to ruin my day.
So quit ruining the mood. If you have a serious question,, if you are worried about someone who has cancer, if you have just been diagnosed, if you are scared you have cancer, if you want to talk because you need someone who has been there, done that – I AM HERE. Day or night. Soccer field or gala venue. But I am tired of laughing hysterically at some great thing that just happened, and then being hit with a gentle hand on my shoulder and a low voice in my ear “Hey, I just wanted to let you know that we’ve been praying for you every night.”
Someone just told me randomly right after a very sudden “how are you feeling?” that he “prays that they do find something so at least if it’s there, we know it’s there.” Oh really? You don’t just want to really go for it and pray I don’t get cancer again? No? Ok, umm, cool. I love when people go for originality.