You’re right. I shouldn’t have just griped in my last post. I do know that people mean well, and I do appreciate it more than anything when they talk TO me, rather than looking at me sideways and slinking down the hall in another direction. The question yesterday was just stunningly bad, in a perhaps-not-obvious kind of way. I think my issue with it really is that it shows that the questioner’s curiousity has at least momentarily triumphed over a concern for the survivor’s wellbeing.
Yes, chemo is mysterious. Most people do not realize that its purpose is to kill cells as they replicate — thereby striking the fastest-dividing cancer cells a hair faster than the also fast-dividing hair follicles, white blood cells, bone marrow, fingernails, and, then, the more pedestrian cells in the body (like, say, the brain cells, and those that reline the stomach and small intestine). We are lucky as a society to have found these drugs that give us a chance; but it is not a panacea, and it is a difficult process, this trying to stay one step ahead of it.
Yes, my diagnosis is shocking. My meeting last week was with the greybeards of my community (standard, if perhaps not flattering, lingo in my field: it simply means those who have been around long enough to know better. And yes, they are almost always of the gender with a proclivity to growing beards on occasion). I’ve always been a bit of an oddity around those parts, being young and female, and infected with this tendency to excitement as I encourage, lead groups, develop or implement policy. So I know that it caught some people off guard.
But all I’m asking is a little restraint, a little of letting sensitivity triumph over scientific curiousity.
Such as my encounter with a woman closer to my age, who talked to me throughout a break about blogging, second life, and educational outreach possibilities, and only at the end leaned in to tell me that she had done the Avon walk last spring and raised $3300.
Such as my friends Susan K (who reads and comments here regularly) and SB, who were a great source of support for me throughout the meeting, and asked if I was holding up when I looked down.
Such as my younger colleagues who sat down with me at lunch, talked about the hot issues at work, animatedly tossed out solutions and then obstacles, and then, when I started to pass out at the lunch table, picked up my bags and helped me walk across the room, and then farther to a spot where WonderDaddy could come and get me.
Such as my older retired colleagues who bent my ear about review policies and current issues and the wonders of working as a consultant, and then whispered that their wives, their beloved wives, were also survivors, and it is still hard, five (or twenty, or thirty-nine) years later. And then offered to sit down while we finished talking, so I could get a little rest.
Such as the young families in the elevators throughout the weekend, who chatted me up about where to take the kids for adventure, helping their little ones learn to talk to someone who looks different without making them feel different.
Such as all the men who were startled to see me looking so different but sounding the same, who kept talking to me professionally at breaks and poster sessions, allowing me to keep my dignity.
The ones who never brought up the cancer. The ones who brought it up sensitively, asking, “Were you diagnosed with cancer along the way?” or telling me, unprompted, about their wives (mothers, aunts, friends) who have fought this beast and survived.
The ones who gave me some time away from the cancer.
The ones who told me that they were sorry to hear about my cancer.
The ones who reached out to pat my back.
The ones who understood when I couldn’t shake hands.
The ones who told me that they knew I’d beat it.
The ones who told me that they’d keep me in their prayers.
The ones who didn’t say anything at all.
There were plenty of wonderful people. There were plenty of good things that happened last week. Listing them all almost makes me forget about the others, the ones who stared, who were dumbstruck, who asked repeatedly about my prognosis, about my options, and about whether or not the chemo is working. Whether I’m still dying. Almost. I can almost forget. I want to forget.
Writing helps me forget the bad parts and remember the good parts. Thanks for listening today.