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 I 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.