hiding in plain sight

It’s a luxury that I have hair. Hair to cut (like I did this week–short), hair to style, hair to hide the fact I have cancer when I feel like hiding it. This may not always be the case over the course of my treatment–but it’s the case now, and for the near future.

Because I have hair, I find myself in a lot of conversations where I could bring it up–but I don’t. I had to ruin enough people’s days when I first got diagnosed. It’s an experience I don’t like to relive unless I have to. I want to talk about it (clearly), but I don’t want to enough to tell everyone I meet.

This evening I met a girl who is an oncologist at Children’s Hospital. “I work with kids who have cancer and other blood diseases,” she said proudly when I asked her what she does. I nodded in surprise. As she chattered on about how she wanted to help kids with cancer instead of do research like a lot of oncologists, I thought about all the things I could add to the conversation if she knew have cancer. Perhaps she gets this sort of thing a lot: “My dad had cancer, my grandmother had cancer, my aunt had cancer, I had cancer…” but probably not a lot of “I have cancer.” I wondered if my oncologists proclaim their profession with as much pride, if it’s socially as important to help old people (and a few young adults) with cancer as it is to help kids.

I decided not to find out. Mostly because I met another oncologist a few weeks ago whom I had a fairly awkward conversation with once I revealed myself as a cancer patient.

Dating is a little more interesting and complicated. I have a (probably irrational) fear of telling guys I date that I have cancer. But if i’m going to date someone seriously, I’m obviously going to have to tell him. One friend put it in perspective recently, “What’s the big deal? It’s not like you’re saying that you’re a monster or that you have an STD or anything.” True. And the guy I was dating at the time of diagnosis was pretty awesome about it–and that was much worse, because I wasn’t quite as comfortable with it back then. But the thought of cancer growing inside of me is still a little grotesque, isn’t it?

I went on a first date last night with a guy who doesn’t know–yet. It made for an interesting argument inside my head when he said, “I work near the airport, so i’m probably getting cancer slowly. But everyone gets cancer nowadays.” Or, when he asked me why I don’t drink, and I smiled, hesitated, and carefully skirted the question.

Now i’m cleaning up my room, because he may see it before our second date, and as i’m cleaning, i’m also surveying. I have a few books about cancer. I turned them around. I have a box of scary-looking medication in blister packages and a calendar that i’m filling out for the clinical trial. I have to find a place to hide them. I have an old person’s days-of-the-week pill case on my nightstand. I have a stack of medial bills on my desk. And a giant binder full of medical records. I have a drawing of Joseph Gordon-Levitt on my wall. And a framed letter from the White House. And my stuffed liver and pancreas. And my bracelet, which I always wear (except, incidentally, last night). And probably a bunch of other things that i’m not seeing.

I feel uncomfortable hiding these remnants of the thing (well, cancer) that has become such an important part of my life. In some ways, hiding uncomfortable things is just part of dating. But hiding something that is as much a part of me as my interest in urban planning? Bordering on dishonest.

I have gotten much better at explaining my diagnosis in a calm and collected manner since I first told my guy after I was diagnosed. I’m not asking for anything now like I was asking for then (emotional support, visits when I was in the hospital, someone to hold my hair when i threw up). I’m just asking for a little understanding. An open mind. An open ear, every once in awhile. I have gotten good at dealing with this on my own, with my arsenal of friends and doctors and former doctors and family and a therapist by my side. But all of this doesn’t mean that I won’t incite panic in some poor guy when I tell him. And if I really like him when that happens, it will make it that much worse.

I know, I know, he’s not worth being with if he runs away–but I still don’t want to test it.

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6 Responses to hiding in plain sight

  1. Marcelo says:

    Tell him as soon as possible, but try not to make that conversation sounds too heavy.
    Sometimes people don’t know how to react at first, so if you don’t make that much of a deal when telling him, I think there’s a good chance the conversation goes better than you could have imagined.

  2. Mark Z says:

    My wife is getting interested now. She loves a bit of possible romance! Like you, she’s had enough of carcinoid drama for a long time (in dealing with mine).

    What if the boy has a secret battle?

    We are anxious for your next post!

    Mark & Lesley

  3. BBW says:

    Lindsay,

    When I was 33, I joined a summer ultimate team full of people I didn’t know well. At the end of the summer, one of the guys asked me out. This guy had never caught my attention and I was a bit uncomfortable. In fact, on our date, I told him I was interested in someone else. He was okay with this — said he’d had a string of bad relationships and was trying to figure out what he was doing, himself. But he said he enjoyed my company and would like to continue having a beer from time to time with me.

    A few weeks into this friendship, we’d had another pleasant night out. I didn’t feel any differently about him, and frankly, I’d done most of the talking. Then, just as we were saying goodbye, he said he wanted me to know something about himself. He said he knew we weren’t involved and that I didn’t have feelings that way, but that if we ever did get involved, he wanted me to know ahead of time that he had genital herpes. He said that when he’d revealed it to other women, it had always been in the heat of the moment, and it had almost always been an upsetting thing for them to hear.

    To be honest, I was kind of shocked. Like I say, I had no romantic interest in this guy and I was frankly appalled that he would tell me when there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of sex between us.

    Less than five minutes later, as I was walking away, I had this insight drop on me like a brick from the sky: he was a decent, honest guy who didn’t want to just use me or just hang out with me only as long as things were easy. He was willing to tackle the hard stuff, willing to be open and willing to be vulnerable.

    The feeling wasn’t an “OhMyGod, I’m going to marry this guy!” It was more of a “Pay attention — he decent, and this friendship is important.”

    I thought on it for a while, and then decided to start a relationship with him. And yes, I am now married to him, and we have two lovely children. It’s been 15 years, and this honesty and willingness to take responsibility and be vulnerable has been a core value in our relationship, for both of us.

    He now has NET cancer, which is why I’m subscribed to your blog. He has also developed a heart condition and some other complicated health factors (none related to herpes). Chances are, we will not have a ripe old age together. But I can’t imagine being with anyone else.

    Cancer is *very* scary, but it’s part of life, not the end of life.

    SM

  4. BBW says:

    Lindsay, I’ve been kinda feeling like that last comment was TMI … I don’t know how to contact you privately, so this was the best way to try to make the point that being willing to take risks may pay off in surprising ways :) But please feel free to delete my earlier comment …

    SM

    • lindsey says:

      No problem. If you go to the “Contact” page you can send me an email!

    • David says:

      I wish you would leave your previous comment up there because I thought it was very well written and powerful. You serve as a good role model to people who can’t see the bigger picture when it comes to love.

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