A Day Away (when people take their lives for granted)

June 3rd, 2011 § 10 comments

More often than not, cancer creeps into conversations with friends. New friends, old friends.
I don’t think I’m obsessed with it. I don’t have to talk about it. Why does it come up?
Is there a cancer radar?
Is it just that when cancer folks are together we let our guard down to share?
Do we want to compare notes and try to get information from each other?
Probably all of the above.

Here’s also where I think it comes from: talking about illness is grounding. It puts the emphasis where it should be. I have many friends who have family members who either have had or currently have cancer. We’re a club. There is a support we can provide for each other, a language we can speak. Stages, grades, blood counts, oncologists, PET scans, MRIs, tumor markers… and on it goes. I really think I should get credit for CSL… cancer as a second language.

I like people who “get it”; I find more and more that I am naturally drawn to them. I’m rarely surprised to find that new friends of mine have had some type of hardship in their lives.
Maybe it’s just that more and more people have “something” in their life story.
Maybe those are the people I gravitate to.
Maybe they are drawn to me (or the “vacuous people need not talk to me” sign I have on my back scares others away).

It’s not that I don’t like talking about shoes or The Bachelorette or movies. I do– a lot. And I actually do think they matter. It’s important to have a break from the heavy, serious stuff. Some people think that the small stuff is all there is– that it matters. Those people are hard for me to take.

One day, shortly after I was diagnosed, I sat watching my son take a tennis lesson. I was still numb and reeling from the news that I had cancer. I hadn’t started chemo, and was still awaiting surgery. I knew what I was facing: double mastectomy and chemo. But to the outside world I looked totally normal; no one would know what news I had received.

There were two moms sitting near me chatting loudly while their kids had their lesson. These were the days before the recession, when women in my town were flush with cash, and living high on the hog. They were talking about vacations. “I just can’t decide where we should go for vacations this year,” one said, “John has so many vacation days it’s going to be hard to use them all. We could go to Switzerland again. But that’s kind of boring. And there’s the Caribbean. But I kind of want to do something different. What do you think?” she said to her friend.

I know what I thought. I thought someone needed to hogtie me to the chair before I punched her out. That was a problem? It was one of the few times I really wanted to say “Lady, let me tell you about a problem.” But I didn’t.


Because maybe her mammogram was the next day.
Maybe she was a day from being told there was something suspicious on it.
Maybe she was a week away from having a biopsy.
Maybe she was a month from having a double mastectomy.
Maybe she was six weeks from starting chemo.
Maybe she was just about to learn the lessons I was learning.

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§ 10 Responses to A Day Away (when people take their lives for granted)"

  • auntie_jenn says:

    love it, soul sister.

  • Ann Gregory says:

    I find that I’m drawn to the same kind of people. It’s somehow so much easier to know that you don’t have to dance around a subject that makes most people uncomfortable and that you can find humor or support when you need it most. Glad we found each other.

  • Sarah oliver says:

    Thanks for the post! Thought provoking as always. I wonder, would those moms still have made those type of comments if they felt there was some kind of meaningful purpose to their lives? I wonder whether they find motherhood meaningful enough? They sound kind of lost to me. I wonder if you would have felt the same way if the conversation had occurred before your diagnosis. Since I have never been in your shoes, I really don’t know. But from the little i know about you, I believe you would have had the same reaction?

  • Diane D'Angelo says:

    Fabulous post. I am not a cancer patient – yet. However, I have been through a lot of heavy stuff in my life, and I also have less and less time for vacuous people.

  • JoanneFirth says:

    I get this. Like Sarah said, very thought provoking and I’m having a hard time commenting on it. It hit a nerve. I can only imagine your feelings having to listen to the vacation problem chatter, as you were sitting there trying to sort out your devastating news. I applaud your self control and your grace. Another excellent post about the realities of living with a cancer diagnosis. xo

  • Pamela Carlson says:

    I can talk about surgery and radiation, or I can speak as vacuously as possible about vacation dilemmas, or talk about any number of subjects in between with infinitely variable levels of perspicacity. It all depends on the moment and the person with whom I am speaking.

    We make quick assessments of people all the time–it’s one of the ways we get along in life–but taking those snapshots for the truth about that person is not the best idea. It’s one of those lessons I keep learning.

  • Ben says:

    If I ever talk about that stuff, I doubt I will have anything to say except maybe to set aside his condition and talk/play with him like his a normal person. I am not a cancer patient nor have a friend with cancer. So please forgive me for being mindless. But isn’t it wrong to take out your anger on other people’s lives just because they living a normal life? Just a thought though.

  • Ben, I think when you are in the midst of a challenging situation, it can be a common emotional reaction to be angry at those who aren’t dealing with what you are dealing with. It’s not necessarily rational to blame, but it’s a coping mechanism. My goal in this piece is to explore the emotions that I felt at that time in my life and not make an assessment of “right” or “wrong.”

  • We never know what tragedy we’re “a day away” from. The other day I looked at a photograph of me and James taken on Thanksgiving and thought, “he only had a month to live.” I do that a lot, tying an event or dinner at our favorite restaurant to my current knowledge that his days were limited. A cancer diagnosis is the same thing.

    Virtually all of my new friends have/had cancer or someone in their family has cancer. It’s a life-changing common experience beyond anything else that brings people together as friends.


  • Laura W. says:

    Who knows–she might have had a terminal illness and been planning her last vacation.

    That’s what happened to an older couple I know. In their fifties, they found out the wife had cancer and was expected to live a year. They sold everything and travelled the world. However, she made a truly miraculous recovery and has been clean of cancer since. They now run a very successful bed and breakfast hotel and are approaching their seventies.

    On the other hand, if someone is honestly bored by Switzerland, they need to sit down and rethink their life. :/

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