A frequent conundrum I face (in addition to the challenge of correctly spelling conundrum) is how to comport myself regarding the fact that I have cancer. On the one hand, I do not wish to play on everyone’s empathy and be the subject of whispered conversations. It is hard to feel good about oneself if all of those looking at your self are doing so out of a sense of pity.
On the other hand, it is cancer. Cancer. One of Death’s preferred calling cards. So while there are those friends and family members who may be too delicate in how they deal with me out of fear that I am so fragile, I also have a distinct minority of close friends and family members (by which I mean certain really close family members) who seem to think that having incurable cancer is not especially noteworthy.
Of course, I am certain that no one who cares about me, as these unnamed guilty parties undoubtedly do, lacks concern over the fact that I am 45 with cancer, already been through one round of chemo and am on a quarterly watch for its recurrence. Rather, it is their actions that belie their inability to accept my situation that I find most frustrating.
I can – and probably will – write many, many blog posts about how certain members of my inner circle have shown their impolitic approach to my cancer. But for today I would just like to focus on one such recurring faux pas: Sharing with me stories of cancer afflicting other people – people that I do not know, have not met and likely never will (even if cancer was not involved). It’s not that I don’t care about these people, but I don’t care about these people. I do care in a global village/we’re-all-in-this-together sense, but I think I have to pull rank here. My cancer, as selfish as this may sound, is really the cancer I am primarily focused on. I really do not have capacity for other people’s cancer when those other people are total strangers.
It’s not that I don’t feel for these people; after all, who can relate better to a cancer patient than a cancer patient? Part of being a cancer patient, however, is that you are always a cancer patient – 24/7/365. It is so difficult to get space from thoughts about this disease. So to have someone swoop in with some unsolicited carcinoma conversation or tumor talk really sets me back. To make matters worse, one rarely – if ever – hears a good cancer story, which in and of itself may be an oxymoron. Rather, what gets voluntarily shared – but involuntarily received – is another tale of woe. And then it is a short step from there to wondering if that is how I too will soon end up.
One anecdote will clearly illustrate the problem: During my second round of chemo, a very close relative of mine (who may or may not have been my mother) decided to share that her friend’s relative was diagnosed with cancer. In telling this story, my mother gets all vklempt and says between sobs– and this is a direct quote, “It is so upsetting. She has cancer and she is even younger than I am.” At this point I could no longer contain my lack of irritation over the blatant but somehow overlooked irony. “I have cancer and I am younger than you!”
I know it must be near impossible to accept that your child has cancer, probably the only thing worse than having it oneself. So I will give her a pass for lack of tact – but I still feel justified in complaining about it. (Especially since she will never read this – she doesn’t know how to turn on the computer.)