Some cancer survivors use the phrase “cancer sucks”. I don’t. I just don’t care for the phrase: [insert random thing I hate here] sucks. First of all, I just find it kind of crass. It begs the question: Sucks what? Uh-huh. We all know what. Second, it’s just not a terribly clever thing to say. It reminds me of some sullen teenage boy complaining about having homework, or being grounded, or finding out his favorite band is breaking up: That sucks! “Gee, Biff, that was mighty profound, and craftily worded—did you have to use a thesaurus to come up with such an eloquent turn of phrase?” Thirdly, it just sounds so daggone bitter. While I realize that some people like to wallow in their bitterness, I try really hard not to be bitter. Not only is bitter not healthy, most importantly, bitter’s not FUNNY. Have you ever met a bitter person and come away thinking, “I really had a good time hanging out with Mrs Bitterbuns—her bitterness is both refreshing and uplifting.” No. You’re more likely to have thought, “Man! I thought I’d NEVER get away from Old Bitterbuns—she totally saps my will to live!”
I’m 36, but the skin on my face has never progressed past the age of 15. When I was 15, I thought that one day my face would no longer break out—maybe when I was 20. And to that my skin has said, “Ha!” But, the one good thing about chemo is that it has cleared up my skin. That’s a blessing because, good grief, like I need to be bald AND have a bad complexion! When you have no hair, all your facial features become more prominent—whether they be the permanent kind, like your eyes, or the kind that erupt over night. Unfortunately, here I am about 2-1/2 weeks out of chemo and my face is apparently feeling like its old self because it’s breaking out left and right. I’m thinking, “Hey! This isn’t cool, I’m still bald!” While I’m not having a Brady Bunchesque pimple-before-the-prom type crisis, neither am I terribly happy about it. Why does that have to be the first thing that gets back to normal? Why couldn’t it be my body’s ability to regulate its temperature, or my taste bud function? Why can’t my face put its energy into rebuilding my eyebrows & eyelashes faster so I don’t have to keep trying to Jedi Mind-Trick everyone into thinking I still have a full set?
If I hear the question “do you feel up to it?’ one more time, I’m going to poke myself in the eye with a spork. The answer is “Yes, I feel up to anything—except being asked for the millionth time if I feel up to it.” I appreciate the concern, but can we please from now on just ask regular old questions without prefacing them with “do you feel up to…”? Other than needing extra sleep, I’m feeling great. You won’t offend me by asking me to do something normal. In fact, I’m a big fan of normal these days. And if for some reason I don’t “feel up to” doing whatever it is, I’ll tell you so.
I say this not to make anyone feel badly, but because I know that folks don’t always know what to say and do. Sometimes I think it’s more important to know what *not* to say than it is to know what to say. For example, it’s in poor taste when upon meeting someone with cancer you spout, “Oh! My Aunt DIED of cancer.” (Yes, that really was said to me—fortunately I have thick skin and think myself immortal.) You don’t need to say anything special—just be normal. If there’s one thing we cancer patients crave because we lack, it’s normalcy. Sometimes we also crave nacho cheese.