Among the many things I’m learning as a result of this journey with breast cancer, I’m getting more savvy about conversations.
My closest friends know exactly what this lengthy process involves, and it’s quite a list. Lumpectomy, surgical biopsy and port placement, chemotherapy, double mastectomy, radiation, reconstruction surgeries.
Casual friends and acquaintances, both at work and in my personal life, are aware that I have breast cancer and am in the midst of the chemotherapy thing. It’s hard to miss, what with the baldness and hats and all. And I’m pretty open with joking around about the experience, even showing off my follicle-challenged, knobby head.
What amazes me is the number of casual friends and acquaintances who, in settings such as the crowded steps at church, my office during a meeting, among a group of riders on the bike trail, ask questions such as these:
- “When the chemotherapy treatments are finished, will you have a scan or x-ray or something to see how you’re doing?”
- “What will happen after the chemo is over?”
- “So…what’s next?”
I don’t mind these folks knowing about the process. They’re demonstrating friendly concern, after all. But what I do mind is the expectation that I repeatedly, on demand, recite the details of my breast cancer journey with all who ask. Whenever, wherever.
Because I’ve found that when I get to the “double mastectomy” part, people gasp and look dismayed. Actually, when I learned about that part, I gasped and was dismayed myself, so it’s not surprising. Going over that again and again, though…comforting and reassuring people, explaining and describing and answering questions…I’m just tired of it.
So I’ve learned some conversational diversions when I need to exist in a no-cancer zone. “Yes, there’s a plan, but let’s not talk about that here and now, you’ll be late for church!” “They’ll probably have a follow-up process, but we haven’t talked about that yet.” “I’m taking this one day at a time.”
And when I greet a casual friend or acquaintance in a public place who I know is dealing with something serious–a health-related issue, family problems, whatever–I say “Hi. How are you?”