Every time I think about the kindness of my friends and parents of friends and people in my life whom I hadn’t heard from in a really long time but who came up big in the “support” department the last 8 months, I get absurdly emotional and can’t choke out my words. When I start to list off the nice things people have done for me it is such a long list that it can easily be misconstrued as bragging but really it’s just the truth. The people in my life are chock full of love and kindness and thoughtfulness and they are really good humans and I want to somehow express my sincere thanks.
I’ll do this by just laying it all out there. Whether this helps you if you know someone going through a rough time, or just feel like listening to me brag, here goes:
[These are in no particular order. Just as it’s come to mind.]
Let the humble brags commence. I received:
PS: On the interwebs there are several articles about what NOT to say to people with cancer. This grinds my gears. Sure, I’ve had some dumb shit said to me. But please ignore those lists and just be a good sensitive human. And if someone gets mad at you for asking, “How are you?” - I don’t care if they have cancer or not they're an oversensitive nincompoop. Honestly, throughout this hell, have they not learned anything about what matters?
Anyhooters, THANK YOU.
This morning after some quick laser beam shots on the ol' boob, I headed over to the Dana-Farber affiliate down the road for a shot in my ass, something I get once a month.
I’d forgotten my phone. I had absolutely nothing to do in the one-hour window between my two appointments except hope they took me early and in the meantime read pamphlets and St. Jude’s prayer cards. I tried not to stare at the women and men around me - sitting quietly in their wheelchairs, or sitting patiently with their hands on their laps.
The deathly quiet was disrupted by a blustering woman, thin, in her late 40’s or so, who breezed into the waiting room clutching a purse and a phone and a water bottle. She set it all down in a chair near me and sat in a heap. Then with a wan smile she started talking, not to anyone in particular, and said, “My husband just broke his hip. He just broke his hip!”
I looked up, and so did the older woman across from me.
"And I’m here,” she continued. "I guess my chemo today doesn’t seem all that bad, compared to that.” She looked at me, and then at the older woman across from me.
The older woman, heavyset, with white hair and blue/gray eyes, wearing a hospital ID wristband just like mine, and just like the thin woman’s, said, “I’m sorry.”
Words wouldn’t come for me, so I nodded and smiled.
The thin woman continued to titter. “They’ll put a rod in his hip. I feel so bad. The poor guy. He fell. He's so clumsy. He’s in the hospital now, up on the North Shore." She looked around. "And I’m here.”
“That’s too bad,” the older woman said, shaking her head sympathetically. Her face was so kind. “But he’ll be fine. Don’t you worry.”
The thin woman stared down at her phone. She kept poking at the home button, looking up in disbelief, and then back down again. “I should text my neighbors. God,” she choked out a small laugh, “They won’t be able to look at either us, after this!" She then said, "I suppose it’ll be good. I’ve been lonely with the chemo. We’ll be laid up together.”
“That might be nice," the older woman said.
I nodded again, dumbly.
The thin woman pointed to her head. “They told me I had 4 months. Told me the melanoma was gonna kill me. Stage IV. Left the stuff in the breast alone. Turned out it didn’t kill me, and now the breast stuff--” she made a motion across her chest, “--went everywhere. I’ve made it 3 years, though. The poor guy. We just celebrated my birthday. And cuz we found out it was gone from my lungs.” She kept grimacing, then half laughing, like she was in shock. Just looking at her you'd almost think she was cheery - though I know that’s not the right word.
A few more moments passed and then she crossed herself. “Unbelievable.” She looked at me, “Right?”
I nodded hard and choked out, “It is." I kept staring at the St. Jude prayer card I'd taken and felt like such a phony. I'm not religious.
She was looking down again, at her phone, poking, swiping. “He was already making up for me not working. Now this. I don’t know what we’re gonna do.”
She was about to say something else but her name was called right then and she gathered up her water bottle and her phone and her purse and said, “Can’t do anything but pray, right?”
I nodded again, the older woman wished her well. Then, a few seconds later, the older woman was called in and I was left alone in the waiting room. I sat for another 45 minutes, rattled. It’s not that I was surprised that such harrowing, compounding issues can addle people like this. Maybe it's because I wasn't surprised at all.
All day I’ve been unable to get this woman out of my head. One word keeps coming to mind and that is “trauma." It’s traumatic not only because of what you experience individually, talking to your doctors, getting shots in the ass, explaining your bowel movements, keeling over in the shower as you sob - but because you’ve entered a world where suddenly you’re privy to the traumas of others. Complete strangers. And yet these strangers are your peers and you can no longer watch them with a safe sense of detachment.
You overhear an old man matter-of-factly rattling off his side effects as he gets his vitals done in the little station next to you. You wonder if this man, stooped over but friendly with the nurses, just happens to be alone today or if he’s alone all the time. You wonder if he tells his caretakers about the pain in his legs? Or does he spare them the details? You hope he has a family.
How many waiting rooms have I sat in? How many conversations have I overheard? How many bald heads and worried sons and doting spouses have I seen these last 8 months? Countless. Last year I remember recounting to a friend that I’d spent Christmas eve with my mother in the “cancer ward of Cape Cod hospital.” I said it with added emphasis, with added drama. I said it in a way like, look at me, life is so sad. Because I wanted to have some sort of effect. I wanted sympathy. God. If I were to have known that would be me in those chairs? Me getting shots in the ass, commiserating with shocked, grief-stricken women, me curled up in a ball puking into a plastic bag - I would have shut my fucking mouth. When it’s not you, you don’t get it. You don’t. And the drama of it all is palatable as long as it’s not you.
This was a weird day to write about, I admit, but I feel the need to describe the world you live in for a while when you’re going though this. Intimate, and shared.
Have empathy for others. Save the drama. And I sound trite but appreciate your healthy days. Appreciate them.
I ate poorly this weekend. I had my first McDonalds in a year. Bad, I know, but it was a road trip - my other choices were bad pizza, chewy shit from Fresh City from the overbearing creep working there, or a shiny Boston Market meal that looked like it belonged in a wax museum. Sue me. I had a Big Mac.
Food's a tricky thing nowadays. It's a constant source of guilt and second guessing. But as my social worker told me when I mentioned recently that I wanted to eat well and not gain weight and all that - she said, just make sure you're not trading one stress for another. You need to live. And it's true. I follow a couple extremos on Instagram who are cancer survivors and they have their little vegan meals in Tupperware containers and posting maniacally about being alkaline and cancer feeding off sugar (ugh, read a real, medically backed book) - and all that would just stress me out. Plus I know of lifetime vegans / health nuts who got cancer anyway. It's an effing crapshoot. I figure I need to be mindful and make sure I eat well most of the time.
(The next day, I gorged on delicious food at a baby shower so let's just call this weekend a wash.)
Speaking of baby showers and babies: I'm happy to report that although seemingly everyone is procreating everywhere I look, it doesn't bother me as much as I thought it might.
I do have my moments; I can't participate in conversations about baby names and birth control and even about periods or shaving my armpits. I'm in freaking induced menopause at age 31. I have hot flashes and haven't used a razor in months. It can feel odd being in a room full of women nowadays. Ok, at times I feel like a fucking freak who can't relate to anyone.
But truthfully, even if my fertility wasn't in question from all this shit, I wouldn't be trying to have a baby. Not yet. So, I'm grateful that on top of everything this year, baby fever is not something that keeps me up at night. Or Mike. Thank God. I'm accepting that I've got other stuff to think about when it comes to my insides. Like, saving my life.
meanwhile, I'm truly happy for my friends and family who have little mini me's on the horizon. It's an exciting time, and I'm not for a second relating their happiness to any absence of my own. That would be a terrible way to live.
PS, back to me (see? I'm too selfish for a baby anyway):
Today I ran 2 miles no stopping! A total of 3. I ran slow as a turtle and huffed that last mile but I did it. Hoping radiation over the next 27 treatments doesn't derail me, but even if it does, it's ok. I know I'm getting stronger.