How does it feel to have three different and apparently unrelated kinds of cancer? Specifically, cancer that is characterised as “aggressive” and “rare”?
The summary: I do not feel special.
Cancer is neither rewarding nor entertaining. Chronic illness is tedious, annoying, objectionable. I have no patience for the attitude that there are moments of illumination; in fact, my experience has demonstrated the opposite.
I haven’t been to my favourite cafe, pizza takeaway, newsagent, or grocery since the cancer treatment started, because I know and like the people who work in those places. They will look at my face, and ask – what happened? Are you ok? They won’t be able to deal with the answer, and I won’t be able to handle their superficial sympathy or transitive grief.
I’ve been avoiding all of my friends, ignoring invitations, neglecting social obligations, not because I care about the new scar: no, quite the opposite. I hold my face up to the world, walk where I like, go to work every day, talk to colleagues and strangers without any qualms. My life doesn’t stop because another layer of skin has been stripped away. I have no fear and no hesitation as I wander through the world.
The only real problem in this whole mess is dealing with the people who love me. Most react in the stereotypical way: they vanish. I understand. Cancer is frightening. I’ve learned that it is easier to walk away first, before I get hurt, before we test the true limits of the friendship. I’ve learned to pretend that I don’t notice, learned to ignore what doesn’t happen, because lack of care is simply an empty space that can be filled.
And anyway, the people who run away are just scared. The next most common reaction is destructive: whether because vulnerability attracts vindictiveness, or because people are simply thoughtless, I do not know. I have just observed that grievances and grudges accumulated over years come to the surface only when I am recovering from surgery. This is baffling, but so juvenile I react exactly as I did in junior high: I turn up the music really loud.
There are a few people who are steadfast and true, who stay in touch and listen to my cracked stories, who know that it is okay to laugh. These people are rare and precious, and they are scattered all across the world. Some live nearby, some are far away. I miss them, and I want to be with them now, but I won’t pick up the phone.
Whatever I have endured or achieved, there is always a cost, and always a loss. I don’t impose on my friends, even when they want to help, even when I want help. There is nothing I could ask for, nothing that they could give.