Instead of saying “How are you?” or “How was your day?”, well-meaning friends and acquaintances have increasingly been asking me, “How are you feeling?”
It always throws me off.
First, it’s a question my doctors usually ask. So I have to remember who i’m talking to (not a doctor), and how much detail they want. Probably not how many bowel movements I had that day or whether my white blood cell counts are in the normal range (they are now, thank you, and i’m back on my chemo).
Then, I try to recall my automatic answer for that question, and I realize that I have none. The question comes from a thoughtful place, a place of wanting to acknowledge that they care about my health and that they’re not afraid to talk to me about it, I think, and it deserves more than the throwaway answer I would give the other questions (“Good.” and “Fine,” respectively).
Then, I wonder, am I supposed to not be feeling OK? Yes, I have cancer, so technically, i’m sick. And yes, i’m on chemo, which can make me sick. And no, no life insurance company would ever give me life insurance. But isn’t it obvious, considering that i’m blogging all the time and going about my business and exercising and continuing my vegan diet trial, that i’m feeling fine?
Then I get a little annoyed. Am I not doing enough to make people understand that having cancer isn’t only about losing one’s hair and being tired all the time and having six months to live? Cancer can be about one or two or all of these things for some people, but for me, it’s not about any of these things. Cancer is about minor annoyances like getting my blood drawn frequently, getting a shot every month, taking my chemo pills when i’m supposed to; it’s about major annoyances like organizing appointments and health insurance and bills; it’s about fear for what lies ahead and for a liver transplant. Clearly I am, at the moment, not sick in the same way that some other people with cancer are sick. At the moment, I am feeling fine, thank you, and if I was ever not feeling fine, then you would probably know about it. Because I would be in the hospital, or i’d be in bed, or I wouldn’t feel like talking, or i’d be sitting out my normal activities, or I wouldn’t be eating.
Then I think, maybe the person meant emotionally–and not physically. My emotional state goes up and down faster than my physical wellness. How am I feeling emotionally? I don’t know. Annoyed, perpetually, at my insurance and the health care system. Disorganized. Consumed by the thought of a transplant. Unsettled.
It’s amazing how cancer can ruin even the simplest of questions. It’s amazing how cancer can ruin almost everything. I was thinking about this while I was watching Crazy Sexy Cancer last week. Why is it such a big deal? Why has it sparked thousands of organizations and blogs and books and documentaries and movies? It’s just a stupid disease–why is it everywhere? Why did I let it change me? Over and over again I can say that I think it changed me and the way I live my life for the better–but would I choose it?
Would anyone choose it? Probably not. Is there anything I can do about it?
“How are you feeling now?”
Sad. And tired of thinking.