Assaulted at the Global Festival: Things Not to Say to a Cancer Patient

I am feeling good.  Looking good.  I have on make-up AND my new Missoni headscarf in a colourful chevron stripe — did you know that turbans and headscarves are en vogue right now?  Lucky me.

My mom is in town visiting and it is a Sunday.  We go to the girls’ school for the biannual Global Festival.  The gymnasium is chock full of delicacies from around the world.  And it is a good day so I am on my second plate of food.  I graze, zigzag and chit chat.  Run into people I know, watch the performances on stage including an astounding Crouching Tiger-esque routine with two little kids and a couple of long hard sticks.  These kids look invincible.  I like it.

I am normal.  I am just hanging out.

Until… “Oh, dear are you having chemo?”  A matronly English woman holding a plate of scones is addressing me.

You are fucking kidding me, lady.  “Uh, yes.”  I say.  Other responses pop into my mind.  “No I am just chic and wearing a headscarf.  I am a spring pirate.  I have alopecia.  I am muslim.”

The woman is still standing there.  Looking concerned.

The woman proceeds to ask about my treatment, my cancer, inform me that she had chemo for breast cancer as well a few years ago, ask if my oncologist is Prof So-And-So, blah blah blah.  Then the clincher:  “Well don’t be surprised if you feel depressed after it is all over.  And you won’t feel at all normal for at least a year, maybe even eighteen months to two years after.”

Gee, that is helpful.  Now I feel better.  I look at the scones.  I consider sneezing on them.  The interaction seems to drag on for another five minutes and then is blissfully over.

Mom is pissed.  I tell her not to worry.  I have nothing to do with her, Mom.  She ain’t me.  And that is just her story.  And you see that’s when it hit me.  Her story ain’t my story.  Nobody’s story is my story.  And vice versa.

I have met enough people who have been through this to know that everyone’s story is different with some similarities along the way.  Learning about someone else’s personal experience may provide guidance or comfort.  But it should never be flung in one’s face unsolicited — to what end?  Especially if the message is negative.

“You will feel like shit.  Shittier than you think.”  That’s the takeaway?  I’ll pass, thank you.  On the advice and the scones.

I asked myself why this woman approached me.  Did she see me and think “that woman is going through what I went through.”   Maybe.  She certainly wanted me to know that I was going to have a really hard time.  Just in case I didn’t know.

But I was just hanging out being me, eating some weird Iranian thing that I grabbed from the Iranian table without asking what it was.  And I didn’t ASK her.

So here’s some advice:  Don’t ask don’t tell.  That’s right, if I don’t ask then don’t tell me.

Don’t tell me I will have a harder time than I think, that I will get x, y and z side effects, that my energy level will suck for over a year.  Of course if I want to know I will ask you and then all bets are off.  Fire away.  Tell me everything.

One day I’ll tell you all the other dumb shit people, most of whom have never had cancer themselves, have said to me.  By then I know the list will be longer.

Meanwhile I plan to kill it, recover and move on.  However long it takes ME to do so.  But I’m planning on a speedy recovery just to prove the scone lady wrong.