Grad school involves a lot of meeting new people. So tonight I was meeting new people, and I was talking to one of them about missing writing because we are both reformed journalists now pursing different careers. And I mentioned how good it felt to be writing again, even if just in blog form.
I should have known that the next logical question for this slow-moving conversation was, “So what’s your blog called?” Honestly, I thought he would say, “Oh! I blog too” or “Oh, cool, well we don’t have much more to talk about so i’mgoingtotalktomyotherfriendsnow.” Probably he thought that because my blog is public online that I am more than happy to talk about it in person. It’s a logical assumption.
So I was faced with the decision of whether to make things really awkward and make some reference to cancer or some chronic condition i’m dealing with. Or tell him just to go read it and see for himself. Which maybe he ended up doing anyway. Or somehow evade the question. Or say, “Our conversation is about to take a very interesting turn. I have been going through cancer treatment for the past year.” Or say something funny and light but also serious that also let on what the subject of my blog is. Or just be really awkward about it by being really vague. Because I had only 10 seconds of umm-ing and not making eye contact before I had to talk, I went for the latter strategy.
“It’s called i am a liver.” So he pointed at his liver (I didn’t even know where my liver was before this all started, so I was momentarily impressed) and said, “You mean, like this liver?” And I said, “Yes, sort of. It’s a long story.” Then we went on to something else.
A similar exchange happened last spring, during my surgery-recovery-quarter-off. Except that time, I ended up telling a perfect stranger that I have cancer. It made sense at the time because the girl I was talking to was going to start her residency (or was it fellowship?) in the oncology office I go to. And the world didn’t end when I said it. I think she was just shocked into silence by my confession and didn’t say much after that.
If I was bald and eyebrow-less, this telling or not telling dilemma wouldn’t be a problem–everyone would know my business by looking at me. Or course, that would present its own set of problems, not the least of which is I might not feel well enough to stand at a noisy, crowded bar for three hours making small talk. And if I did, I think it would require enormous self confidence to stand around trying to hold a normal conversation while the whole time the person I was talking to would be looking at my head, wondering why I was bald and if I was going to say anything about it. That doesn’t sound easy either.
But still, it is not easy to look normal and act healthy, and oh–have cancer. But now that it’s been a year and it’s going to be many more years until this is over (if ever), I need a solution. It’s weird and confusing to be a grad student sometimes and a cancer patient sometimes but never both at the same time. Also, since i’m single now, I have a feeling i’m going to be getting myself into this situation a lot with potential suitors. And then have to deal with them running away in fear if I say the wrong thing.
I’ve been making little strides to “own it” more–I started this blog, for one. I hid it on my Facebook page. I go to support groups. I meet other young adults with cancer. I’ve been telling more and more old friends. I wore a bright pink bracelet around today in support of a friend who got her first chemo infusion today. Little things that make me feel more secure, but still not open.
I don’t even want to talk about it all the time with everyone. I am perfectly happy not talking about it all the time. I just want it to not be so taboo. It’s something i’m dealing with. It has a profound effect on my life now and my life in the future. It’s part of me. Yet I have to tiptoe around it for fear of, I don’t know–breaking social norms? Going there? Having to talk about it, having to answer questions, having to act like I must be doing fine because I feel fine, having to council whoever I just told, having to deal with an inappropriate or awkward response? What could possibly be so dreadful about just being honest?