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Friday, May 17, 2013

The Cancer Conversation, or Awkwardness Abounds, or Alliteration for the sake of Alliteration

Here's a true, awkward story: 

Pretty early after my diagnosis, when I first started this blog, I ran into a friend, not someone I know very well but someone who I like very much, at school pick up. I'll call this friend "S". When S and I saw each other, we hugged. I did not recall who initiated the hug. In fact, I didn't even remember the hug. S did. That evening, she sent me a message on Facebook:

This may sound strange, but I wanted to apologize if I was awkward in our interaction yesterday. So, you know when you've had a night of drinking and the next day you proceed to have flashbacks of the night before that make you think, "Really? Did I do that?" Well, when I think back to your interaction, I have this image of me hugging you. Now, let me preface this by saying, I have nothing against hugs. Hugs are great. Hugs with friends you don't see often and are just getting to know...super awkward, and frankly, uncomfortable. (It ranks up there with strangers who touch a woman's pregnant belly.) So sorry about that---

Let me reiterate: I did not even remember this hug. So I wrote back:

I didn't notice anything at all. What did you do? Did we hug? I don't remember. We didn't make out or anything right? Did you have gas? What happened? I hope you haven't been torturing yourself about this for the past 24 hours.

A couple of days later, I ran into S with her husband, who confirmed, that yes, she tortured herself worrying about our hug for about 24 hours. Maybe she would have done so even if I didn't have cancer. Although if I didn't have cancer, she probably wouldn't have hugged me. 
Of course, it's not always the other person who initiates the awkwardness. When I was first diagnosed, I struggled with who to tell vs. not to tell. I would find myself on the school playground, talking about mundane things with people while debating in my head whether or not to blurt out "I have breast cancer. That's really all I want to talk about right now so can we stop talking about your kids swim lessons?" Of course I never did that. Well, one time I guess I did. I blurted it out to an acquaintance. We were at the kindergarten open house night in November and she asked the simple-yet-not-so-simple question for me any more, How Are You? so I guess I gave her an update.
"Oh," she said. "I'm sorry." She pointed out the purple ribbon pin on her coat. "I have a friend with pancreatic cancer." And so I said I was sorry to her. I can't recall how much I actually talked about the breast cancer, but I didn't think it was much. Truth is, I didn't even really remember the interaction until earlier this week, when our boys had a playdate for the first time. We were talking at her kitchen table and I began a story with, "I don't know if you know I'm going through treatment for breast cancer..." and she reminded me of that evening when I told her. 
"I think you were still in shock," she said.
Uh huh. Shock. What does a person act like when they're in shock? A quick Google search tells me "person may be anxious and excited." I imagined her coming home that evening and telling her husband about the anxious and excited mom who started going on about her breast cancer at kindergarten open house.  

Even though I write a blog now called "I had a boob once," I still struggle sometimes with who to tell. Or with  how much to talk about it vs. not talk about it.  I wonder in my head sometimes as I'm speaking, "Am I talking too much about my cancer?" I imagine the person sitting next to me possibly wanting me to shut up. Of course, I wondered this before I had cancer, too...

I also often notice that when a person starts talking about themselves and their problems, they become uncomfortable and point it out. "Oh enough about me. We should talk about you..." they say. Or here's one: My friend J emailed me shortly after I lost my hair to see how I was doing. She mentioned that her daughter had been throwing up for hours and she felt awkward telling me about how she had held her hair as she vomited.
"Don't worry,"I said, "I'm glad not to have hair if I vomit." And it was the truth.

Look, my motto about all this is: You've got your troubles, I've got mine. Like the song in this award-winning, show-stopping video by Sandy and Harry. Author Jane Roper wrote about this type of awkwardness beautifully on the Huffington Post yesterday.  I also really like this piece about what the authors call the "Ring Theory of Kvetching." It's great advice for choosing what to say- and not to say -to whom during a medical crisis. This article circulated on Facebook a while ago, but I held onto as my own reminder. A good read if you haven't read it already.

There's one more thing I want to address, though. And it's kids. Most kids have no filter, as we know. Some of my more awkward moments have been with children. For a while, I wore only a little wintery type cap on my head when I picked my kids up from school. No adults ever asked me about it. But a little girl did. We were standing inside her house as I was dropping Ethan off for a play date. "Why are you wearing a winter hat inside?" I explained that it keeps my head warm. That I was bald. Then I took it off and showed her. She didn't flinch, although she stared at my head for the rest of the visit.

Even more awkward, after I started wearing my wig regularly, Jonas's friend Sam became obsessed with it. The first time he saw me wearing it at pick up, he shrieked in his five-year-old voice, "Your wig is perfect!" Then a few minutes later, "I love your wig!" I appreciated the compliments, but when this continued a few days later at the playground, I started to get a little uncomfortable. I swear I am not exaggerating when I write that he inserted the word "wig" between everything he said. "Can Jonas come over to play? Wig!" "Can you throw me that tennis (WIG) ball?" Fortunately, his obsession with my fake hair and his tourettes have both dissipated recently.

I think David Rackoff, a wonderfully funny and talented writer who died of cancer at 47, summed it all up best:

“But here’s the point I want to make about the stuff people say.
Unless someone looks you in the eye and hisses, ‘You fucking asshole,
I can’t wait until you die of this,’ people are really trying their
best. Just like being happy and sad, you will find yourself on both
sides of the equation over your lifetime, either saying or hearing the
wrong thing. Let’s all give each other a pass, shall we?"

Let's all give each other a pass, shall we?
Nuf said.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Don't Miss it! A Guest Post by my Friend Kevin (in response to my post yesterday)

Kevin's comment on my blog yesterday was so entertaining I thought I'd share it here, as a guest post. And if you didn't read yesterday's post yet, do that first, as all of this will make a lot more sense. Maybe.

Well done, Amy. I love the positivity. 

- The Thesaurus is good, but for my money nothing beats The Chicago Manual of Style. That thick brick of grammar rules is a life-saver. 

Not that I've read it, of course (good Lord, the thing weighs like twelve pounds). But then again, neither has anyone else. And, as the person in the office with a writing degree who knows less about grammar than most immigrants but whom others nonetheless turn to with their style questions, its mere presence on my desk allows me to respond confidently to any and all questions. 

Confused by the verb agreement for a compound sentence in which the subject is a parenthetical digression connected with ornor, or but? Simply add a diphthong to the noun in question. 

Unsure of the proper way to change a prepositional idiom into a past participle? Just invert the dependent clause that comes before it by using a passive direct object. 

Work Colleague (skeptically): 
. . . Really? . . . Because those answers just sound like a bunch of unrelated words loosely strung together. 

Kevin (pointing to his copy of The Chicago Manual of Style): 
Chicago says so. 

Work Colleague (mollified): 
Good enough for me. 

- As for the hot showers: This may be a gender thing. While I don't dislike hot showers, I'm definitely more appreciative of the function rather than the form of that endeavor. 

Hot tubs and jacuzzis, on the other hand, you can keep. How anyone can sit in one of those and not feel like they have just been cast in a low-budget, late-night Cinemax feature is beyond me. 

- The police officer letting you slide, though, is something I also wholeheartedly endorse. I had a similar experience when I was sixteen. The only difference was: 

A.) Eight unopened cases of beer that an older friend of ours had just purchased for us to take on an upcoming spring break trip to Myrtle Beach were stacked in the back-seat of my car. 

B.) My two traveling companions were very, very high. 

Fortunately, I was completely sober. Unfortunately, I was sixteen and incredibly stupid. As in get-out-of-the-car-and-approach-the-police-cruiser stupid (I should also mention that it was nighttime). And, if you know anything about law enforcement, you know that people who get out of their car during a traffic stop are typically beaten about the head and shoulders with a nightstick while simultaneously being tasered multiple times in the throat (as, I might add, they should be). 

Amazingly, the officer simply asked me for my license. Even more amazingly (and actually this part begins to fall a bit into the realm of the unbelievable), he did not seem too overly concerned when, after requesting said license, he watched me drop it, reach down to pick it up, come back up without it (wait, what?), and then reach down again to retrieve it. In fact, if I had to hazard a guess as to his feelings at that exact moment, I'd say they probably fell somewhere between baffled sadness (for the future of this once great land) and abject pity. 

That he let me go with just a warning about driving with my headlights off (along with a strong recommendation that I head directly home) was nothing short of miraculous.

- And finally, although it's a small matter, I think it's important to give a bit of context to the cat video link that I forwarded to you. Because, for whatever reason, people who forward cat video links are often unfairly judged by our society. 

Sure, I own a cat (lots of people do). And occasionally I do write and publish cat-themed poetry for Cat Fancy magazine and its Spanish-language sister publication, Gato de Lujo (it's nothing more than a creative outlet). And yes, if you checked, you'd find that I hold a minority share of stock in a company (Time to Shine, Feline) that designs and manufactures tiny bow ties for male cats (that's just a smart business move). 

But that doesn't make me a "cat person." 

. . . If anything, I'm more of a dog person. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Half Way There...and Full of Gratitude

Today is my 3rd chemo treatment out of six. Yesterday my Triple Positive Personality was overflowing so I thought I'd share some deep thoughts about what I'm thankful for:

The Thesaurus. Is anyone with me on this? I friggin' love the thesaurus. What's better than finding a better word? Or finding the perfect word? Euphoria. Thank you people who write the thesaurus.

Hot Showers. Taking a hot shower is often the best part of my day. It's peaceful. You can't take your Iphone or Laptop in there, so it may be the only time, except for sleep, when you can completely disconnect. And who doesn't love hot water massaging  their back or bald head? Tell me people: Have you ever felt thankful for a hot shower? Next time you're in there, think about it. Now that I'm at risk for lymphadema, I'm not supposed to get in hot tubs/jacuzzis. Not that I was ever a huge fan of hot tubs (sitting with strangers in bathing suits who may be passing gas is not really my thing), but I liked to take an occasional dip whenever visiting a hotel. Now I can't, but I can always luxuriate in a hot shower. Thank you to the person who invented the hot shower.

The Policeman who Stopped me for Speeding Yesterday but didn't Give me a Ticket.
I don't know his name, but Mr. Policeman who stopped me yesterday in front of the Reading YMCA for going 35 MPH in a 20 MPH zone (as he pointed out), thank you. You did not stop smiling in the short time you talked with me and I'm not sure why you let me off so easily as I was going to whip off my wig and play the cancer card but I did not have to because all you said was, "Please slow down and be careful" and then, still smiling, you left. You are a good man.

Being Triple Positive. Yesterday at the Y's Pink Program (an exercise program for people with breast cancer), I met my polar opposite: a woman who is triple negative, and thus much harder to treat. She told me how she finished chemo a month ago. That she's doing well. But she said she can't stop thinking about dying. The other ladies said, "No, you can' think that way. You need to think positive." But I imagine that's harder to do if you are triple negative. I will think positive thoughts for her. Maybe you can, too?

This Video. Sent to me by my friend Kevin (do you ever read his comments on my blog posts? They truly are brilliant). I'm not a cat person, but I love this. Can someone tell me if that dog is a pit bull? And if it is, why doesn't it just kick the shit out of Peaches?