Sunday, March 25, 2012

Cancer

Some days I am fully convinced that I have cancer.

Not that I'll feel any specific signs or symptoms of any cancers. In fact, I don't really know the signs and symptoms of different cancers. (Note to self: wiki cancers.) It's more a sense of looming disaster that I often dramatize. Like when a friend is more than 30 minutes late to something, and I start to imagine that they have been in a serious car accident. And for a full five minutes, I will think through the scenario. I get a call. My phone shows that it's the friend--I feel a quick sense of relief that they are ok. But then I answer it, and it's an unfamiliar and rushed voice on the other end, and I know immediately that something has gone wrong. There are sirens in the background, and the voice is hesitant to give specific information, but they ask for my friend's name and any medical history I can provide. I try to channel a cool-minded Grey's Anatomy character and focus on relaying information even though my hand is shaking. The voice has to get off the phone, but they say that everything will be fine, and I can meet my friend at the hospital. My arms and legs feel weightless like they belong in a different reality as I grab my keys and get into my black Jetta to drive to the hospital. (I always seem to have a black Jetta in these scenarios.) And so on. You get the idea. And usually around this time the friend shows up, and I'm disproportionately relieved to see them. And I quickly fall back into my actual reality.

And I do the same thing with cancer. I've thought through different scenarios of a doctor telling me that I have cancer. I have different reactions each time. Sometimes it's along the lines of eerie denial where the words don't stick, and I say "thank you" and slowly walk out of the room. Sometimes it's a down-to-business discussion where I matter-of-factly ask about treatment and percentages and the next step. Sometimes it's really emotional. I also imagine telling friends. I'm terrified that it would create this insurmountable divide where my friends would feel sympathetic but also really uncomfortable because they wouldn't know the right thing to say or how to act. This has weighed so heavily on my mind that I have told my friend Christie that she must treat me the same even if something crazy happens to me. It was last June. We were sitting on a bench on Put-In-Bay island in Ohio looking out onto Lake Erie, and I made her promise to be normal around me. And also to speak at my funeral. Since she is a high quality friend, she took it all in stride.

Now I'm feeling bad. Like maybe this is all coming off as really insensitive because my dramatizations are clearly heavily influenced by a cliched notion of what it is like to experience these things. And by TV. It's true that I've never actually known someone who has been seriously injured in a car accident, and I've never had cancer. And I know that this space of dramatized catastrophe is not a good place to spend all my time. And I don't. But I'm often overwhelmed knowing that at any moment life can change dramatically. It's such a common idea that it doesn't really feel like it has any weight as I type it. But I am both fascinated by and terrified of moments that you can't control that can immediately jerk you into a new reality.

At BYU I had a friend who worked at some cancer testing lab. The details seemed really unclear, and I'm not really sure how her education qualified her to work there, but she told me that on slow days she would run cancer tests on her own tissue. She said she never really truly thought that she had cancer, but she was always super relieved when the test results came back proving that she didn't.

I feel like some days I just need a full round of cancer testing to give me peace of mind.

8 comments:

Renny said...

I was going to say, I didn't know you had a black Jetta!

Josephine said...

This is probably a stupid thing to say, but I do think dealing with people when you have a serious disease would be worse than the disease. Maybe?

Josephine said...

Also, love the redesign.

Elisa said...

I am in LOVE with this new blog design.

Stacy said...

I recently told my mom that I fully expect to get cancer in my lifetime. It's something I just live with. In fact I may already have it, in which case I think I am dealing with it pretty well.

Ryan said...

Can this type of anxiety run in families? I feel like I have unhealthy (probably carcinogenic) doses of anxiety too. Often about death or serious illness. I'm going to take a page out of your book and start channelling TV characters in times of irrational anxiety or in response to traumatic news. That's a coping mechanism I can use!

Ryan said...

Can this type of anxiety run in families? I feel like I have unhealthy (probably carcinogenic) doses of anxiety too. Often about death or serious illness. I'm going to take a page out of your book and start channelling TV characters in times of irrational anxiety or in response to traumatic news. That's a coping mechanism I can use!

Ryan said...

Sorry for accidentally posting twice. How humiliating. Rush of anxiety. Think to self, "How would Liz Lemon cope with this?"