It’s ridiculous that I have cancer. Cancer is supposed to happen to other people, older than me and preferably not that close. If I learn someone I don’t know well has cancer, I say, “Oh, that’s terrible!” I ask what sort of cancer but I don’t get overly involved in their disease. I might bring up the person’s situation if the subject of cancer arises, but I keep my distance. Are they undergoing chemo, or getting surgery? Sorry. I don’t know.
If, heaven forbid, it’s someone close, or family, my reaction might be more caring. I will offer to help; I’ll drive them to and from their doctors’ and wait in the car for them; I’ll bring food, and sit by their bedside. But when it’s me, well, frankly, I don’t know how to react.
I was diagnosed in February 2012, and there was nothing outwardly that would indicate I was the one out of two males in America to get cancer. I thought it should have been the other guy, not me, and over time, I developed an “it is what it is” attitude. I told a few friends and acquaintances, mostly people who were in 12-step programs like me.
I cried a little. The disease was painful only when I had to have biopsies. Those hurt. Peeing after a procedure was nasty, and wearing a catheter was even nastier. I remember peeing my pants once, when trying to hold it became impossible. That ended a nascent relationship with a young woman who really wanted to help, but not if it involved bodily fluids and plastic bags full of urine.
I learned cancer jokes. There are hundreds of them and only people with cancer can tell them. I memorized the location of public bathrooms (shades of George Constanza) in the District and two adjoining counties. I learned to forget that I had the Big C, and respond to question with, “Yeah, well, you know, it could be worse.” One idiot asked me what sort of cancer I’d prefer to have and I said, “Ovarian.”
Increasingly, there’s little to say, and that’s because almost everyone I know, knows. I’ve undergone 27 invasive biopsies and the 28th is around the corner. I know what to expect. I even know many of the nurses who’ll be on the floor. I am on my seventh oncologist and am comfortable not agreeing with his suggestion that my bladder should be removed.
I’ve lived alone for the better part of my life and know exactly what provisions I should buy to surf through the next surgery. I have mastered surviving—so far—what cancer has lobbed at me. I’ve had excellent care through the surgeries, chemotherapy and, more recently, immunotherapy.
Still, it really should have happened to someone else. There are fewer than 200,000 people diagnosed yearly in the U.S., so that leaves a lot of people who are not me who could have gotten it.
But yeah, it is what it is and it could be worse. A lot worse.