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  • Writer's pictureKate

I don't feel any different, until people open their mouths

It is hard to explain... even though cancer is never far from my mind, I don't typically feel any different, at least mentally, than before I was diagnosed. I am still me. That is, until people look at me a certain way, or open their mouths and start pouring out their soul without my permission... then I realize, oh yeah, I have cancer and that's why they are treating me this way. For this reason, I am more than ready for my scarce eyebrows, bald head, and non-existent eyelashes to return so my outward appearance better matches what I feel inside.

I'll give you a recent example: I went in to my primary care doctor's office the other day to complete a pre-op physical to make sure I am ready for my upcoming bilateral mastectomy surgery. The nurse immediately showed signs of treating me like a cancer patient, walking me back to the room, asking me how I was handling everything and coping, physically and mentally. I told her how I was doing, appreciated her concern, but wished I could just go to one appointment without having to think about cancer. Once we were in the room she said, "I sure hope you have a good support system, because that's what my husband and I needed." Right then, I knew I was going to hear a personal story, likely inappropriate for the nurse patient relationship. Instead of taking my vitals and reading through the pre-op questions, she told me all about her husband's four-year battle with prostate cancer, which he lost about six months ago (her words not mine). I tried to listen sincerely, nod, or make some sort of convincing gesture that I was paying attention as she went on and on. But all the while I was thinking about how uncomfortable this made me feel, and how she didn't even realize that telling me about her husband dying from cancer may not be the most sensitive thing to talk about with someone currently battling cancer. Not that I haven't thought about worse case scenarios during all this - I have had a lot of time to think about how precious life is, and my own mortality, but having a nurse shove that in my face without my permission and when I was not expecting it was a bit shocking. My mind then turned to, should I be the cranky cancer patient and ask her to stop talking about it? Or, do I let her finish her story so she feels better, but I feel creeped out? Pre-cancer Kate would have said, "You know this is inappropriate to be talking to a patient about right?" That would have done the trick, but post-cancer Kate hasn't quite figured out how to navigate this new normal. I have always been sensitive to other people's feelings, and I was a damn good counselor for many years, but when the tables turn it is more difficult to know what to say. So, I let her finish her story, she took my vitals, and everything was fine- except for my sense of inner peace.

I guess I tell this story so I can further process it in my own mind, but also to give a perspective of someone with cancer. Interactions like the one I described with the nurse, are the ones I dread. My cancer diagnosis does not give you the right to dump all of your personal cancer baggage on me without my permission. Interactions where people treat me just as they would have before cancer are those I cherish and look forward to. This doesn't mean I don't want to talk about my cancer; I like to talk about it, but at my own discretion. And, I admire when people have the courage to ask me about how I am doing, and about my treatments, plan, etc., especially when they truly want to hear the answers. I just don't appreciate when people take what I am going through as an opportunity to turn the conversation on themselves at my expense.

So, if you encounter someone with cancer and don't know what to say, be honest about how you are feeling, they might surprise you with their response! One friend I found truly refreshing, said flat out, she was nervous to come visit me because she didn't know how cancer might have changed me. But she worked up the courage and came anyway. She said she was relieved when I "wasn't all depressing" like she had imagined.

Hair update:

  • My head is getting fuzzier as we speak, but not all of the hair follicles have gotten the message yet, so the baldness is still shining through at the moment. I can feel hair when I run my fingers across my head though, so that is something! 

  • I literally have one eyelash. Enough said. 

  • I have about ten eyebrow hairs, bet you can't count yours! There are signs of some new ones sprouting, but they are growing slowly. Andy assures me that even though I don't have eyebrows, he can still tell when I am furrowing my brow...

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