I have noticed, ever since the cancer began colonizing other territories in my body and the M-word became affixed to my C-word, that I am sometimes treated just a little bit differently than before. It’s subtle — like an almost imperceptible shift in barometric pressure — but it’s definitely not my imagination. Of course people don’t actually gasp or recoil, but sometimes they get all somber and earnest, imploring me to stay as positive as possible and to believe in miracles. Wouldn’t that make you feel, I don’t know, a little weird? A little paranoid maybe? This doesn’t just happen with the insensitive or uninitiated. I get bumped to the front of the line for visits to the cancer shrink at the breast clinic, which is great, but I have to wonder why I’m being treated like cancer royalty all of a sudden. And there are other, more alienating experiences: I was being screened for a breast cancer support group for mothers of young children and it turns out I can’t be included because of the metastasis. As they very cautiously explained, none of the other mothers have metastatic disease and group dynamics can be “delicate”. In other words- what?
My presence might freak others out because they’ll project my presumably horrible fate onto their own experience? Or I might jump up and tell people that they don’t know from scary? Really, what?? I do understand that it is always better to have a population of people with similar experiences in these kinds of groups. But still, it made me feel like I had unwittingly morphed into a different species entirely. These things, subtle though they may be, all contribute to the feeling that something (besides the cancer) has changed or shifted since my disease metastasized. Like I’m becoming faintly translucent in bright light, or something. And I don’t like it, not one bit.
All cancer is crap, and the sneaky, shape-shifting, nomadic nature of metastatic disease makes it extra crappy. But even though my cancer hasn’t exactly been responding well to treatment so far, I know I’m going to beat it. They say it is “not curable,” only treatable, to which I say, bollocks. Of course it’s curable. They are coming up with newer and cooler ways in which to smash metastatic disease until it’s finally crushed, once and for all, like a nasty and unworthy insect under the 4-inch heel of my cancer-defying awesomeness. However, until that happy comic-book ending comes to pass (and it will) I have to live with metastatic breast cancer. I know I have a serious form of cancer and that, because it’s on the move, I have to fight it constantly and indefinitely. I accept that I sometimes need help with things I used to be able to manage myself. I freely admit that I get really scared sometimes (mostly at night) and I have to chase the boogeyman away and regroup.
These things are all true. I’m not in denial. But I want to strike a deal with the world at large: Please don’t stop with all the help and prayers and good thoughts and love and certainly not with the soup. Please keep encouraging me and supporting me and telling me I’m courageous, because it actually helps me to be courageous. And please, don’t look at me like I’m going anywhere anytime soon. Even if you think I’m delusional (I’m not) and I’m not going to live (you’re wrong) I ask that you suck it up and fake your way through the most convincingly positive attitude you can muster.
Use the Stanislavsky method. Whatever. Just don’t let me catch you looking at me like it’s only a matter of time, because if I’m supposed to believe that I can get through this (and I do) it helps if everyone around me believes it too.
Or at least acts like they believe it. Besides, for whom isn’t it only a matter of time?