That’s what my “cancer twin” Jess and I called it.
It refers to the effect of cancer on the social life. Regardless of the question of whether or not you feel like going out, sometimes you have to. And when you are wrapped up in treatment, how do you not not traumatize the flow of “normal” social conversation?
Picture this: Your best friend has a 10th anniversary party and it means a lot to her that you attend. So you go. There’s going ot be a mix of people you know well and not so well. Some know about your illness, some don’t. There are some people that you have no idea whether or not they know. How do you make the evening not about you, but about your friend?
First, you don’t want to walk in looking like a “sick person”, so you chose to wear a wig to remain more “anonymous” than your baldness allows, and you actually fix up quite nicely. You see someone for the first time in months. Here’s a sample conversation:
Him: Hi! Great to see you (yada yada yada)…So what have you been up to?
You: Oh, you know. This and that. How about you?
Him: Like what? I haven’t seen you around! Tell me how’s life?
You: Um, not so interesting really. How’s [insert partner’s name here]?
Him: Oh, fine…I imagine you’ve been traveling a lot with work. How about those new security rules. Has it been a pain in the butt for you to get through every day?
You: Oh, it’s not so bad.
Him: Oh come on. It looks impossible to manage. They must have special rules for flight crew, what are they?
You: Ahh…well, I don’t actually know. I haven’t flown recently.
Him: Really? I didn’t know that. Why not?
You: Er…I’ve had some things to attend to here.
Him: Nothing bad I hope…? [chuckles, and waits.]
Hmmm. This is awkward. Obviously this person is clueless. He doesn’t seem close to giving up/catching on though.
You: Just some medical stuff.
Him: Is it serious then?!
I’m thinking: Now what? Do I lie? That will take some elaborate effort to keep up. Do I not lie? That’s awkward too.
He’s thinking: Do I show concern and interest? Or will I look nosey? I don’t want to appear disinterested in her problems, but am I prodding? Anyway I am curious…
Eventually you look like you’re hiding something, or being weird. So you have no choice, but to drop….”the C-bomb”.
You: [as casually as possible] Well, it does involve chemotherapy. But it’s not very interesting to talk about.
But then it’s all over. No one has a conversational stronghold on that one by comparison. And worse, either the chat is now awkward and stilted in the person’s embarrassment for not having known, or there are a million obligatory questions for them to ask you, either from a service of polite interest and/or out of raging curiosity.
Where do you go from there? “I’m having chemotherapy, but enough about me. How’s that marketing account going?” just doesn’t work.
Although, these days, when trapped in a 40 minute conversation about the ins and outs of current mortgages (or such) I can be humerously nostalgic for the power of the C-bomb. Of course, I can’t tell him that because – wait…or could I?