Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Identity Theft

Since my late Nov/early Dec diagnosis, I've met a few new people. It's so strange to have a person enter your life for the very first time when you are going through something like this because, in their eyes, it instantly becomes your defining characteristic.

I can't really blame them. Let's say I met someone tomorrow, and she told me, "Hi, I'm Tina. That's short for Christina. I grew up in Connecticut. I have 2 sons, Lester and Lyle. I am a lawyer. I study Buddhism. I have cancer. We live in West Seattle. Next weekend, we're going to Hawaii." The ONE THING I would take away about my encounter with Tina is, "HOLY COW, SHE HAS cancer. WOAH. THAT S-U-C-K-S."

It's especially jarring because most people our age don't have cancer. I don't think my generation can handle this very well. We aren't ready for this stuff to start happening yet. It feels like we're just getting STARTED with life.

So, of course, this is the impression the new people get of me: The nice, young girl who, shockingly enough, has cancer! But sheesh, it's such a misrepresentation, because this disease is SO NOT who I am. For goodness sakes, I've been alive now for 36 years, but I've only known about the cancer for a few months! I didn't do anything to earn it. I don't like it. There are lots of other parts to me that are easily three times as interesting. But it's hard to get past that detail.

It's odd, because I think if the disease I had gotten was high blood pressure (also a killer, albeit "the silent one"), no one would ever whisper, "That's Shelly. She has HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE."

On Monday, during Betty's dance class, I introduced myself to one of the moms. She was really sweet, and she had just moved to Seattle. Plus, she has 3 kids, around the ages of mine. I thought, "She just moved here! She could use a friend!" So I really started chatting with her.

There is always a pivotal moment in these conversations with new friends where you have to decide if you are going to drop the c-bomb on them, or let them remain blissfully aware about the beast that lurks within you. Sometimes, you can't avoid it, and once you tell them, the conversation gets SO serious and grim. Really puts folks off-balance. Kind of kills the mood.

Our convo went like this:

Her: "So, ok, you have... two kids?"
Me: "Yep. Just two."
Her: "Ever consider adding a third?"
Me, laughing a bit and shaking my head: "Actually, yes. In fact, turns out we were going to try to get pregnant in January. But. We...didn't yet. So."
Her: "You just decided not to try anymore?"

--so I've lead her to the pivotal point, where I have to decide if I tell her, or if I lie and make up some convoluted excuse, which will probably catch up with me later, anyway---

Me: "But.... well, I got sick. Yeah. See, um, turns out I have cancer. So, YEAH, YEAH, no, IT'S OK. I know, really weird. I know."
Her: "Oh my God. WOW. I NEVER would have guessed it in a million years. You seem so healthy! You have all your hair! I am SO SORRY. Ok, you know what? I am going to pray for you. Tell me again: what's your name?"

So she knows I have cancer before she knows my name.

I desperately need a new come-on line.

1 comment:

  1. Unfortunately, this is a part of life. It's traumatic for others to hear as well. People can't compartmentalize it easily, it's too intense and it may bring out their own traumas as well on an unconscious level.

    I know you don't define yourself by cancer, and others don't either, but they do hook onto it. People are naturally connecting and empathetic. That's human nature.

    Ok, enough psychobabble. You probably already know all this anyway, and more.