“How is your dad doing?”
Usually I say something like, “Um. He’s OK now, but he has a long recovery ahead of him.” Or, I say, “Well, he lived through the accident, which is good, and he’s not paralyzed, but he has a lot of healing left to do.”
It turns out this question is almost as difficult to answer as questions about my cancer.
I don’t want to sound dramatic, but I want to be honest. I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable, but I don’t want to “cheapen” what he’s been though, and what I go through, by glazing over the details. There is no way to put into words how scary and how strange this experience with my dad has been for me and my family (and for him), but I want to try.
The day I got back to L.A. after spending five days in the hospital watching my dad’s condition worsen and then, slowly, improve, I went directly to class. Because I am in a field where people care about biking and bike safety, a lot of people asked me how my dad was doing. I thought back to the ICU that I had so recently left, and gave one of my standard answers.
It didn’t seem adequate. I had just experienced some of the most stressful and emotional days of my life (that I think were even worse than the days that followed me being diagnosed with cancer), but what else could I say? “Good, glad to hear that,” they said. And quickly, before I could do something to stop it, the conversation devolved into talk of neighbors falling off their bikes and breaking their arms. In my head I was thinking, “If only it was just a broken arm.”
Later, my friend told me I shouldn’t be afraid to make clear how serious the accident actually was. I think I need to follow this advice more. Maybe people just want to know he’s OK, or that i’m OK, and don’t want to hear the rest. But it’s not that simple. Maybe i’m here to educate people? Dads can get hit by cars while riding bikes. Young women can get cancer and not die immediately, but not get cured either.
This was running through my head Saturday night. I was at a bar with a few friends (not drinking, because I definitively can’t now that i’m on the liver transplant list), talking to a guy. He offered to buy me a drink and I said, “I don’t drink.” Then, he asked why. I hesitated.
I could have just said I was the designated driver, because I was. I thought about how socially unacceptable it is to admit you have cancer in a bar full of Cinco de Mayo partiers. “You probably don’t want to hear about why I don’t drink. It’s not really bar talk.” He said, “Well, you already told me your dad got in a serious bike accident.” This was true. He asked me if I liked to bike and I said, “I used to like to bike until my dad got hit by a car while riding his bike. Now, i’m scared.”
So, I just said it. “I have cancer.” He didn’t run away. The world didn’t collapse because I said something socially unacceptable. He asked me a few questions, I tried to be accurate with my answers. It’s still amazing to me that I can be out at bars with a full head of hair when i’m on chemo. Then, he told me his mom died two years ago from cancer.
Then, my friends wanted to go.