Cancer, The Bomb Strapped To My Chest
Having terminal cancer is like having a bomb with a slow-burning fuse conveniently strapped to your chest. Current statistics estimate that there is a 90% chance that my fuse is less than 5 years long. I've already burned up 9 months. (You following? Please stick with me, there is a point to this analogy.) So imagine this: You wake up everyday and there's this bomb. It's a bit heavy, it makes you tired, but overall you can function with this bomb. It's not the fact that you have to carry it that makes it so difficult; it's the the fact that it's A BOMB. Bombs make you uncomfortable. Bombs make other people uncomfortable. Sometimes you wear a baggy sweatshirt so you can cover the bomb. But everyone who knows you still knows it's there. Other times you jump on your bicycle and toodle around the neighborhood and that helps you forget about the bomb. It also makes people wonder how you are able to bicycle with a bomb. (That sounds unsafe.)
Overnight you become The Person Who Has to Carry the Bomb.
Yes, you are still a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a teacher, a writer, a woman, a Catholic. You are still impatient, sarcastic, humorous, inappropriate, unsure, fun. But first and foremost you are a person with a bomb strapped to your chest. And in a certain sense this makes sense. I mean, for pete's sake, it's a bomb! It's likely going to kill you and seriously hurt anyone near and dear to you when it goes off. So what are you going to do about it? What is everyone else going to do about it? You need to stop doing everything in your normal life and learn how to dismantle it. (Sorry, kids, you don't get to have hugs or eat breakfast anymore. Mom needs to learn everything there is to know about explosives. Now. Oh, and don't be stressed, research says that that m akes the bomb's fuse burn faster. Namaste, Bomb, namaste.)
You come to accept that you're The Person With the Bomb Strapped to Your Chest. The bomb is part of you. And yet...it's not you, even though you often forget that. Your big, beautiful community seems to forget that, too. Not intentionally, of course, it's just that they love you and want to make sure you know it every minute of every day. Not just because of the bomb, but especially because of the bomb. And so they bring up the bomb often. In the morning you wake up and wear something that helps to cover the bomb, but then you reach for your phone and see that you have five text messages from people wanting to know about the bomb or tell you they are praying for your bomb. You jump on facebook to see when the family birthday party is and two people have pm'd you about the bomb. Did you talk to that doctor about the bomb? How did that bomb consult go? Can we bring you dinner? It must be very difficult to cook with a bomb. It is. And thank you. But you haven't even had your coffee yet and you are already fully absorbed with the bomb. You are turning into Gollum with his Precious and it's only 8am.
You shake it off and go out to lunch with a friend. She gives you a hug and looks at you like you're an injured deer. She asks how you are doing, and then apologizes for being insensitive. How dare she ask how you are doing? I mean, it's not like she would've asked you that before you had to carry the bomb. Oh, wait, she would've and that would've been normal, but now for some reason it's not ok to ask how you're doing because now we have to automatically assume that we're referring to the bomb. And that's awkward, because you shouldn't have bombs at restaurants. And now you're no longer hungry. Damn.
You go back home and your kids are waiting. They are the only ones who don't seem to notice or care about the bomb. It's both refreshing and overwhelming at the same time. Their fount of need is never exhausted and it's in the presence of their obliviousness that you are most acutely aware of the bomb. You are forever comparing the length of it's fuse to the milestones in their lives. You can no longer focus on the cuddling or tickling or coloring, you are once again consumed with how to get more fuse. It's in these moments that you truly hate the bomb. Not because it's going to kill you, but because of it's ability to steal your present joy. Screw namaste, Bomb, I am going to tear you limb from limb.
I think you get the picture.
I assured you that there was a point to this analogy. What I am trying to illustrate is that I am at a very weird point in my disease. Right now I am physically feeling pretty good and so in my everyday interactions I would like to try and put cancer in the passenger's seat. Perhaps I didn't need this elaborate analogy. Perhaps an explicit list is more helpful. How's this for being blunt?
Helpful Things to Know About Interacting With Me Right Now:
1. It's normal to ask how I'm doing. I would ask you the same.
2. It's not normal to look at me with an expression of extreme concern unless I am spouting blood or struggling to perform tasks on a basic level.
3. When I am in public, running up to me, embracing me and stating that you are thinking and/or praying for me is awkward. Especially if I barely know you. It makes me feel like I'm wearing a "She's Dying From Cancer!" sandwich board.
4. I may not respond to your facebook messages or texts. Some days there are simply too many or I am exhausted by even thinking about the responses. It doesn't mean I don't care/appreciate/love you. It's just that in that moment I have to attend to something else to maintain my sanity.
5. I can buy you a beer, a lunch, or make you cookies. Doing these things makes me feel normal.
6. There will likely come a time when I can't do the things in #5. Then you can buy me beer everyday.
7. There are times when I want/need to talk about cancer. Trust that I will bring it up and ask you when those times arise.
8. It's okay to tell me that you can't talk right now. It's ok to tell me no.
9. There are times when you will want/need to talk about cancer. Call me and ask. Then I can be mentally prepared to discuss it at an appropriate time. There's nothing worse than thinking I'm going out to have fun and the person who has invited me really just wants to talk about cancer. What a waste of a good outfit.
10. I would take a million awkward interactions over having none at all. I am blessed, blessed, blessed to have you all in my life. I need you and love you. Thank you for risking the awkward to let me know that you care. I know that that's at the heart of it, even when it's hard.