“But you’re so young and healthy,” he said to me, stunned, after I removed my cap and quietly shared my cancer diagnosis.
And it struck me to the core. Because I’m not, clearly, and I never will be again. I will always have cancer, or have had cancer, or be on the lookout for the cancer to return.
It’s not his fault. He didn’t mean to hurt me with the words. He was simply stunned, and spoke before he thought. He may have even said them if he paused and thought, actually, since they don’t seem like words you would regret. They seem innocuous. Quiet. A normal reaction.
But some days, they feel like a rebuke.
Tonight I am haunted by those words. I have heard those words so many times over the last 4 1/2 months and I do not want to hear them again. I have heard those words from friends. From colleagues. From medical professionals. From intake nurses and from oncologists. They don’t make much sense anymore, these words, these words that try to be reassuring but come out as a rebuke. How could you have cancer? How could this have happened to someone so young and healthy?
And yet, here I sit, two days after my (ninth? tenth?) chemotherapy treatment, waiting for a sleeping pill (of all things) to take effect and counter the toxins in my body keeping me awake. Waiting for the tylenol to mute the bone pain coursing through my legs and arms. Waiting for the nausea to dissipate so I can lie down more comfortably, farther away from my little white bucket. Waiting for the random nosebleeds that spring out of nowhere now to cease. My first ever nosebleed was last week, but now I have them several times a day because the Taxol, not content to take my hair and eyebrows, has stripped my body of its mucus membranes as well, making it more difficult to taste, breathe, and digest.
I am waiting for sleep.
But I am also waiting for the tumor to shrink sufficiently to be declared “operable” so that the surgeon can take my breasts and reduce the tumor load on my body. Waiting to head to radiation, the daily treatments that will burn the cancer cells left behind by chemotherapy and surgery. Waiting for the adjuvant chemotherapy to begin, if necessary, to attack whatever remains. Waiting to see if all this will work, if it will give me more years with my little children. Waiting to regain my strength and energy, and the person that I once was. But the words echo in my mind nonetheless, as I wait:
“But you’re so young and healthy.”
Edited in response to comments: Words you all say will never hurt me. I know you are here to support, and I treasure every word you leave in return. I should have been more clear. It’s just funny, somehow, how simple, innocous words sound different somehow through this lens of cancer, and I need to work through that a bit again. But please, please stay. Please leave your words. Each comment cheers me and helps me feel that, in this fight, I am not alone.