Thanksgiving weekend was filled with a lot of usual things: food, family, fires, and long car trips, and one unusual thing: lots of talk about cancer.
Learning to talk about cancer is almost like learning a different language. Since it has been a year now, I am pretty much fluent, as are my close friends and my family. We can throw around organs and chemo drugs and blood tests in conversation without a second thought. Words that meant nothing to me a year ago, like bilirubin and granulocyctes, Xeloda and Temodar, octreotide, metastasis, and neuroendocrine, are now common in my thoughts, and in my writing, and in my everyday conversations. And my dreams, also, which I guess is how I know i’m fluent.
Something that also comes with fluency is a certain detachment. I can talk about it like I talk about urban planning or what I did all day. I can say it without getting choked up like I did a few times at the beginning. This is part of my life. The video helped a lot with that. So has the blog. I was struck by that last night as I was responding to the last of my fan mail. In a few months–a few weeks, even–I went from being the mentee to the mentor. I can comfort people who tell me they have cancer because i’m OK with this now. Comfortable. Confident. Doing so well. Moving on, in a way.
I’m not sure how just posting a video could have done all these things.
But still, being comfortable with it myself and writing openly and long-windedly about cancer on my blog doesn’t translate to speaking eloquently about cancer in social situations. This has always been the case, but now that i’m so candid about it in writing and through emails and with reporters and on TV and on the radio and in videos… I feel like I should be in person too. (Speaking of the radio, I will be on the Stupid Cancer Show tomorrow, Monday, November 28, at 5:00 PT. Tune in live or check back after for the recording.)
My video helps diffuse the issue a little, so people can ask whether or not Joseph Gordon-Levitt has replied (he has not) or ask me how many interviews I did (10?) or how many emails I got (400?). It puts a positive spin on what could otherwise be an uncomfortable situation.
But it was so easy to say “I have cancer” in my video and it’s not quite so easy out in the world. How can I explain why on earth I decided to ask out a movie star without mentioning the crucial fact that I have cancer? I could just say “it’s a long story” and refer people to my blog if they’re interested. Or, I could, like I did twice this weekend, say “I have cancer” and attempt to be as open in person as I am online. I wish I could just say that sentence and have everyone immediately understand that i’m just mentioning this to give context to what i’m about to say but we don’t have to dwell on that fact. I was diagnosed a year ago. I’m over it. Moving on…
Nevertheless, the phrase was met with furrowed brows and looks of confusion in both cases, and the conversations moved on quickly to more familiar territory. No one said anything particularly memorable or insensitive but still i’m left wishing I had said more. I’m not sure what, but something.
Maybe I need to write a post about what I should say to accompany my “what you should say” and “switching shoes” posts. I feel a bit like I’ve graduated from those posts onto something else. Something more like, “It’s impossible to put what I want to say into words, so i’m just going to say something and hope you get what I mean underneath what I’ve said.” How’s that for advice?
Now, moving on.
Not moving on past cancer like the NBC-LA story said, but moving on with cancer.
During the holidays of my future a usual thing will have to be lots of talk about cancer, intermingled with the food, family, fires, and long car trips. That’s just the way things are now. Moving on…